Wheeling Businessman Ralph Baxter Sets Sights On Seat In Congress
WHEELING — Democrat Ralph Baxter stood outside the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe Operations Center in Wheeling and looked into the future, and it wasn’t the first time he had done so from that spot.
On Tuesday, the former CEO and chairman of the global law firm announced he was entering politics and making a run for West Virginia’s 1st District House of Representatives seat in 2018.
Sixteen years ago he stood outside a long-abandoned building and told the community he was going to redevelop it and bring at least 50 information-age jobs to Wheeling. He planned to relocate and centralize many of the law firm’s support services that had been in San Francisco.
Now, 350 people work at Orrick’s operations center in Wheeling, and its success led to another 500 jobs being created on Main Street at Williams Lea Tag, Baxter said.
“It’s another time that I look to the future … ,” he told a crowd of supporters. “Actually, I have more optimism about the future right now than I had 16 years ago. … And 16 years ago, I was full of optimism. I believed what we were going to do would work and it really has.”
Baxter said the Mountain State has a workforce that can compete with anyone in the world.
“I know how hard the people of West Virginia work because 350 work here. …”
“We do some of the most sophisticated legal work that is done anywhere in the world right here in this building, and West Virginia people do it.”
When Facebook acquired Instagram, much of the legal work was done in Wheeling, according to Baxter.
“I know the workforce here and how the community works together,” he said. “I know how the state leaders — when they are at their best — and the county leaders and the local leaders can make things happen, so I look at the future optimistically. I know what we did in Wheeling we can do throughout the district. From Clarksburg to Parkersburg and every place in between, we can attract high-paying jobs back to West Virginia.”
Baxter, 71, was born in New Martinsville to parents Ralph Sr. and Edith Wright Baxter, and he said all generations of his family were born and raised in Wetzel County. The Baxters would move to Wellsburg and Follansbee during his younger years.
Ralph Baxter Sr. was a steelworker, and Edith Baxter started out in the insurance business during World War II. The family moved to California by the time the younger Ralph Baxter was in fifth grade when his mother was offered a job as an office manager “that she couldn’t refuse,” Baxter said.
Baxter received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1974, his master’s degree in education from the Catholic University of America in 1970 and a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1968.
He served as CEO of Orrick for 23 years, and first joined the law firm in 1974. Prior to becoming an attorney, he was a sixth-grade teacher in Washington, D.C. Since retiring from Orrick in 2014, Baxter has served on a number of boards for law schools and other legal organizations, and as a writer and speaker on the legal profession.
He currently lives in Wheeling.
“I am a West Virginian,” Baxter said. “I learned to read here, and I formed my values here. I had the foundation for my life in the Northern Panhandle.”
The 1st District House seat is presently occupied by U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va. An engineer, McKinley also has rehabilitated a number of buildings in the Centre Market neighborhood near Orrick’s operations center.
National GOP officials said they are confident in McKinley’s prospects for re-election.
“Rest assured, the years Ralph Baxter spent in San Francisco fully prepared him to be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi’s liberal agenda,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Martin. “Unfortunately for him, voters in West Virginia’s 1st District prefer Congressman McKinley’s independent voice and steadfast leadership in Congress.”