David Versus Goliath: Mike Folk Takes On Justice, Thrasher for Governor’s Race
PARKERSBURG – He may not have the wealth of Gov. Jim Justice or former Department of Commerce secretary Woody Thrasher, but former Berkeley County delegate Mike Folk believes he has what it takes to earn the votes of West Virginia’s Republicans and non-affiliated voters next year.
Folk has been working the state since announcing his pre-candidacy for governor in February.
On Tuesday, Folk attended the Wood County Republican Executive Committee’s Trump Day Dinner with his daughter Sarah. He pulled up in front of the Dils Center in downtown Parkersburg in an old Ford pick-up truck with hand painted wood signs with his campaign logo on the side.
Justice, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican nearly two years ago, is the state’s only billionaire with dozens of businesses. Thrasher, who switched from Democrat to Republican in March, started an engineering firm with his dad in the 1980s and became a millionaire.
Folk may not have their wealth, but he has been a Republican longer than Justice and Thrasher – something he believes gives him an advantage going into a Republican primary. He also believes that with the Republican-controlled legislature and the reformed state Supreme Court of Appeals, the governor’s office needs a real Republican at the helm.
“I’m running because the executive branch is the last branch that needs to be cleaned up,” Folk said. “The executive branch has yet to be touched.”
Folk has remained a hometown guy. Growing up on his family farm in Berkeley County, Folk graduated from Hedgesville High School, earned a degree in economics from Shepherd University, and a master’s degree from West Virginia University.
Today, he is an airline pilot flying Boeing commercial jets on international flights, influenced by his time working for his father’s agriculture aviation business during college. Including Sarah, Folk and his wife Stella have five children.
First elected in 2012, Folk served three terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates representing Berkeley County. Quickly gaining notoriety as a member of the Liberty Caucus, Folk and other Liberty Caucus members occasionally found themselves at odds with House leadership once the Republicans took the majority in 2014. Folk has never been afraid to stand up for conservative principles even if it meant standing up to fellow Republicans.
For example, Folk was removed as a committee vice-chairman in 2017 after challenging a ruling by former House Speaker Tim Armstead on a bill where Folk was trying to remove a tax. On another occasion he was disinvited from the House Republican Caucus when he aligned with house Democrats to oppose a tax increase.
In 2018, Folk decided to challenge incumbent Democratic state Sen. John Unger for the senate seat that encompasses parts of Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Folk lost that race by 4.2 percent, receiving 47.86 percent of the vote compared to Unger’s 52.14 percent victory.
SHIP OF STATE
While many issues inflame Folk’s passions, education continues to be a major focus of his platform. After graduation from college, Folk taught math at two local high schools and taught marketing at Shepherd University.
Of particular interest for Folk is the state Department of Education’s College and Career Readiness Standards, used to determine what students should know for math and language arts education in each grade. The department said these standards replaced the controversial Common Core standards in 2015. Around the same time, Folk filed suit to prevent the state from participating in national Common Core.
“When Jim Justice got elected, he made multiple appointments to the Board of Education. He filled it with people who brought back one of the three architects of Common Core in West Virginia, and that is Steve Paine (state superintendent of schools),” Folk said.
Even though you don’t hear the name Common Core anymore, Folk believes the College and Career Readiness Standards are Common Core by a different name and should be scrapped, along with the testing. Folk supports giving teachers the final say on whether a student proceeds to the next grade. He also supports less bureaucracy at the state and local levels of education.
“We need to get back to allowing more teachers autonomy in general in the classroom,” Folk said. “We still have too much bureaucracy. That still hasn’t been whittled down. They’re not listening to their front-line employees.”
Roads have become a major issue leading up to the 2020 primary with secondary road maintenance a critical problem in many counties. Folk said a complete audit of the Department of Transportation and Division of Highways should have been done to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. Folk pointed to a bridge replacement project in Boone County being touted as a bridge to nowhere.
“We have to get rid of some of the waste,” Folk said. “There are efficiencies there.”
Folk said the savings from streamlining the department could be used for road maintenance. He would also reform the bidding and purchasing processes to save the state money and make highway construction projects more efficient. He also supported Senate Bill 522, which would have allowed the Division of Highways to use pay-as-you-go monies collected from increased tax revenue and DMV fees for secondary road maintenance in counties.
Justice vetoed the bill, also known as Randy’s Dream for its lead sponsor, state Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker.
“Randy’s Dream was a really good step in the right direction,” Folk said. “Of course, the governor vetoed that bill. I think that was a mistake, and that’s because there are people in the executive branch that have egos.”
A big issue affecting state residents, the poor, retirees, and state workers is the high cost of health care. Folk attributes some of these high prices to West Virginia’s certificate of need law. On the books since 1977, certificate of need law requires health care providers to get permission from the state before starting new facilities or expanding.
“We have one of the most expansive certificate of need laws in the country,” Folk said. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the state requires a certificate of need for 21 medical services.
Folk calls for repealing the state certificate of need law and open up competition between health care providers, which he believes will lower the costs for routine medical services. If that can’t be accomplished, Folk wants to see a limited certificate of need law modeled after Oklahoma’s. Folk said the cost savings from removing or limiting certificates of need can help bring down the cost of health insurance.
“I think it was five percent that was the overage cost reduction,” Folk said. “Those lower costs lead directly to lower costs of insurance.”
When comparing himself to Justice and Thrasher, Folk points to his experience as a legislator – experience neither of his opponents have. Folk has crafted legislation, worked with other lawmakers, and even crafted his own state budgets.
“What separates me is I’m ready,” Folk said. “None of these people have experience working with the legislature. I do.”