Shelley Moore Capito

“A senator’s voice is much more powerful”

March/April 2015


The same day Shelley Moore Capito was sworn in as West Virginia’s first female United States senator — and first Republican since 1959 — she recognized the clout that her new office grants her.
Capito, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from the 2nd district from 2001 until earlier this year, made her first phone call to a federal agency on behalf of her constituents.
“The federal agency actually changed their decision based on my phone call,” Capito said during a 40-minute telephone interview from her new headquarters at the Russell Senate Office Building.
“I’ve been doing this for 14 years,” she added. “I don’t want to say that’s the first time it ever happened, but it really reinforced to me that a senator’s voice is much more powerful. That’s why I campaigned on that. It is much more influential.”
As a member of the now majority Republicans, Capito’s new leadership position was bolstered even more when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky named her one of four counsels, a just-created duty that puts her in weekly meetings with McConnell and other advisers.
“It’s a chance to say, for instance, ‘
This week, we’re going to be doing these amendments on the Keystone Pipeline. What are you hearing from the membership?’ ‘
How are we going to pass the appropriations bill for Homeland Security in the next several weeks? When should we take it up?’ ‘
What are we expecting from the president in the State of the Union?’ What kind of conversations Leader McConnell has had with the president or (minority leader) Harry Reid.
“All those kinds of things are discussed. He leads it but he basically listens too. We’ve had one every week since we’ve been here.”
Capito’s appointment as a counsel took her by surprise, but being named to the Republican whip team by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, along with nine other senators, did not as much.
“I know Sen. Cornyn fairly well,” she said. “He was very helpful to me in my election. He came to West Virginia. When you are forming a whip team, you are looking for a variety of senators so you can reach every facet.
“I think probably in that group, I will be very useful in helping with the freshman members.”
Capito’s swearing-in day brought about additional significance, including the two Bibles she used as vice president and president of the Senate Joe Biden conducted the ceremony.
“The first one was a Bible that I found going through my father’s things over the last several years, and it has a picture of him. It is his World War II picture, and in the first page, it says, ‘
To Junior,’ which is what my father was known as a little boy, from his grandmother. So I figured he carried it into Germany when he was in the war.”
Capito’s father, of course, was Arch A. Moore Jr., the former three-term governor of West Virginia who also spent 12 years in Congress. Capito ascended to the Senate after her father’s longtime political rival, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, retired after 30 years and she defeated Marion County native and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the November election.
The second Bible had been a gift from her father and mother, Shelley Moore, upon Capito’s graduation from Duke University.
“I wanted to get something that had meaning for mother. I hadn’t lost my dad at that point, but my mother, I lost in September.”
Coincidentally, her father, who had been ill for some time, died the day after Capito was sworn in, on Jan. 7.
“It’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs overall,” Capito said two weeks later. “Overall, we’re doing just fine. He’s at peace now. He was struggling there at the end. At least he’s with mom and all those good things. That’s what I keep focusing on.”

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Growing up in the shadow of her father’s political career, Capito witnessed historic events and lived a life that somewhat mirrors her own today, splitting her time between Washington and the state capital of Charleston where her husband works, with her family hometown of Glen Dale occasionally thrown in the mix.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Capito was enrolled in elementary school in Washington and she attended his funeral one day before her 10th birthday.
“They let us out of school early because we were in D.C.,” Capito remembered. “Just the shock — the president’s been shot. I can remember walking down the street with my friend because we used to swing on this one tree limb as we were coming home, and I remember swinging on that tree limb thinking, ‘
The president’s been shot.’ It was just so shocking to everybody. And he was, my parents were sort of the same age and contemporaries to them. It was sad.”
Otherwise, growing up as the daughter of a politician meant a lot of parades, Lincoln Day dinners and speeches, she noted, some in Washington and others in West Virginia after her father became governor in 1969.
“I remember being very interested in all of it,” Capito said. “But I really admired the way that my father was able to connect with people, and it really got reinforced at his funeral as we were standing in the line hearing the stories.”
In spite of her childhood and her eventual own political career, Capito initially did not plan to follow in her father’s footsteps. She started out pre-med at Duke before a job at Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC) put her on a different path.
“I kind of changed my mind at the end of my senior year and went on and got my master’s in counseling,” Capito said.
That led to a job at West Virginia State College in Institute near Charleston. But once she married financial adviser Charles Capito, she took 15 years off to have her three children, Charles, Moore and Shelley.
“And then I was living in Charleston and you are observing the Legislature, and I remember thinking, ‘
I could do that.’ My children’s education at the time is what sort of propelled me into trying to make a change in West Virginia. I wanted to have and create a state where the opportunities for them were as good as I thought they had been for Charlie and me.”
She apparently mulled this over for a while because one day, when she spotted a friend at the grocery store, Capito revealed she had been contemplating a run for the House of Delegates in 1996 and asked for an opinion.
“And she goes, ‘
You’ve been talking about this for two years. Why don’t you just do it?’ So I did. And I barely won. But I realized from the first day I got out to campaign, that after all those campaigns I had been on with my father and watching him, I remember the first thing I thought was, this wasn’t as easy as it looks. He made it look so easy. But he had been doing it for so long.”
After Capito served two terms in the House of Delegates, Congressman Bob Wise announced that he would not seek re-election in the 2nd district in order to run for governor in 2000.
“I realized the opportunity in West Virginia was rare for an open seat and I was encouraged by a lot of people to make the attempt and won again. Barely, but I won,” she said.
And thus began Capito’s career on Capitol Hill. As she had for her first House of Delegates race, she turned to her father for advice.
“He knew West Virginia politically probably like nobody else. Where you can get the votes, particularly when I ran for Congress, who you can count on. It had been 16 years since he had run for anything, but he still had some great connections that he introduced me to.”
However, Capito liked to point out that at the time, she was a 40-something mother and had a mind of her own.
“Everybody kept going, ‘
He’s directing her political career.’ I kind of bristled at that because I thought, ‘
I am capable of independent thought.'”
Still, she does credit her father — and mother — for the support they gave her career.
“He just really helped me visualize and look at the issues,” Capito said. “He was very, very helpful but he wasn’t intrusive. I’m sure he was making phone calls. He just helped me a lot.
“Mom helped me a lot too because every time I’d speak, she would say I was great. And my dad would say, ‘
You were all right, but …’ But my mother would go, ‘
That’s the best speech I ever heard!'”

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As a new senator, Capito has a lot on her plate, with her two special appointments as well as her three committee assignments — Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works. She also was named chair of the latter’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, which oversees Environmental Protection Agency regulations established under the Clean Air Act, including rules to curb carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
“I can see that the Senate is a more deliberative, contemplative body and that’s the way it’s set up to be,” Capito said. “And that’s the way I’ve found it so far.”
She requested all three assignments. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she wants Congress to rein in the $18 trillion debt as well as make sure West Virginia-focused agencies such as the National Energy Technology Laboratory — with a location in Morgantown, and the Appalachian Regional Commission — get sufficient funding.
And then she envisions her role on both the Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment and Public Works committees to be helping mineral-rich West Virginia in both the coal and natural gas industries.
“There are lots of looming regulations out here that could be harmful and expensive to the state of West Virginia because of our reliance on coal for energy production,” Capito said. “The president has been very vocal and his policies have backed that up, that he doesn’t want coal as a major mix of power production. And so what has happened is we’re going to have to take lots of power sources off-line, and we don’t have a replacement for that.”
When it comes to President Barack Obama, Capito also would like Republicans to repeal his signature legislation, the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Aspects that trouble her include the provision that defines full-time employees as those that work 30 instead of 40 hours a week and the individual mandate that requires coverage.
“But I don’t think the president will sign that so I think our next step would be to keep what works and re-work some of the major problems, and hopefully he’ll sign that. There is no guarantee there.”
In spite of the challenges Capito sees in dealing with the president, she looks forward to serving with her colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin, as well as Democrats in general.
“In terms of working bipartisan, until 2014, West Virginia was a pretty Democratic state,” she said, chuckling. “I have a history of working across the aisle. I want to continue doing that. Solutions are not made by one party or another, and frankly, in order to get something through the Senate, you need bipartisanship.”
She and Manchin have worked together for years, she noted.
“We have a pattern of understanding one another, and when we differ, we also can do that in a very respectful way.”
Manchin spoke at her father’s Jan. 16 funeral, held at the Culture Center in Charleston that was built in 1976 during Moore’s first administration.
“He had a commanding presence and his passion for our state allowed his vision to be one of strength and resilience,” Manchin said during his remarks.
Said Capito: “He was very kind to be one of the speakers and did a very eloquent job at my father’s funeral.”
Manchin also escorted Capito to the Senate floor for her first of two swearing-in ceremonies.
“And that was sort of a group and Sen. Manchin escorted me. Three at a time is how we did it.”
After that, her immediate family, including her husband, three children and their spouses and her two grandchildren, Celia and Charlie Capito, went into the old Senate chamber in the Capitol — “which is where the battles were waged over the Civil War” — to meet with Biden for the private swearing-in.
“So we got a beautiful photo of that and my little grandson had been sleeping. He’s only 18 months old. We had to arouse him from sleep. He was not happy. So that will be a good family story as we get older.”