You Don’t Mess Around With Riley
There’s a new sheriff in the West Virginia State Treasury.
When Riley Moore was elected State Treasurer in 2020, he became West Virginia’s first Republican treasurer since 1932. He beat his predecessor, who had held the office for 24 years, by 13 points.
When West Virginians elected him, they were asking for a different kind of treasurer. They asked for the kind that cancels all state contracts with BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. The kind that starts the nation’s first state savings program designed for high-school graduates uninterested in a four-year degree. The kind that uses an orange Stihl chainsaw to tear down a tree while wearing a cut-up Power Trip t-shirt.
They didn’t want the guy wearing freshly minted Timberlands posing next to the chlorophyll-stained worker. They wanted the chlorophyll-stained worker.
When West Virginians elected him, they were asking for something different in both policy and personnel. Moore ran on a pro-transparency, anti-corruption campaign, seeking an office that needed to be “cleaned up.”
Born in the state’s northern city of Morgantown as the first of three children, the Mountaineer went on to become a welder after high school. He welded his way through college at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he studied government and international politics. Moore worked in a mining operation, which he fondly described as a “great experience,” and said he “wouldn’t trade it for the world.” He worked on several steel projects near his campus, including one at the boiler room at Georgetown University and others at various embassies in D.C.
Moore’s maternal grandparents encouraged him to learn the welding trade; his grandfather worked as a welder and elevator mechanic, and his grandmother waited tables for decades at the same Los Angeles restaurant. The treasurer couldn’t overstate his affection for his late grandparents: “The way they had lived their life, and the good type of people they were, [they were] just salt of the earth, blue-collar workers [who] loved this country, and were just the kindest people that I ever knew.”
The combination of the treasurer’s political and labor experience is reflected in his family ties. His grandfather, Arch Moore, was the only three-term governor in West Virginia history, and his aunt, Shelley Moore Capito, is currently serving as the state’s junior senator. He referred to his grandfather as “a personal hero,” admiring his victory over Jay Rockefeller in a contest in which Moore was “outspent something like 11:1.”
After graduating from George Mason, Moore wanted to work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, then chaired by Illinois’s Henry Hyde. As Moore tells it, “I figured out that his chief of staff also owned a bar in Alexandria, Virginia called Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub.” The recent graduate got a job waiting tables and serving drinks at the King Street establishment. “Eventually, I asked Tom Mooney, owner of the bar, ‘Mr. Mooney, could you give me a chance on the committee?’ He said, ‘Sure, but you still have to work here Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.’ I said, ‘Yep, no problem, let’s do it.’ I didn’t sleep for a long time, but I got my start on the committee.”
He began doing “low-level work,” but worked his way to joining the ranks as a member of the professional staff as a national-security advisor for the committee. Moore eventually earned a master’s degree in Strategic Security Studies at the National Defense University in DC’s Fort McNair. After completing his graduate program, he became secretary for the U.S. Congressional Delegation at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
The treasurer described these experiences in national and international institutions as “rewarding work” and “interesting experience that all helped shape my worldview that I currently hold.” When asked about the highlights of this worldview, Moore said, “Watching the failure of nation-building and statecraft over those years when I was working on the committee was really illuminating for me, and the different types of partnerships that we formed with different countries around the world as it related to security assistance: I think some were beneficial, some perhaps maybe not as much. Learning how those decisions were made and weighing those decisions at a high level…was very informative for me.”
After working in these public-sector positions, Moore moved on to the private sector, which he found less rewarding than he had expected. He worked for Textron, which owns the aerospace industrial company Bell (known as Bell Helicopter when he worked there). “It’s a tremendous company that I think does great work, but I think I missed the lens of U.S. national interest, or in my case, West Virginia interest.” After “learning a lot at Textron about corporate structure and culture,” Moore looked to “apply these experiences to public service in [his] state.”
He decided to return to his home state because “that’s where my heart is. These are some of the greatest people in this entire country. They really are. Hardest working, faith-based communities that care about their neighbors, and are just trying to live the American dream.” Moore was aware that his state is the “butt of those jokes that are inside the beltway,” but embraced a calling to “do something that's not about me. It's about something larger than myself.”
Upon returning to Appalachia, Moore won a seat in the 67th district of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, located on the very limit of the state’s eastern border in Jefferson County. His first and only session in the House was an unusual one. In 2018, the chamber impeached all five justices on the state’s supreme court on charges of overspending and corruption and elected Moore to become majority leader. Mere months after his peers elected him to this leadership position, Moore lost his district reelection bid. “[Sen.] Manchin was on the ballot, and he ran a strong campaign. His opponent, our Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, lost and we’re both from the same county. We had a real wave election out there where we lost every seat that we had in Jefferson in kind of a fluke, including my own.”
Moore “didn’t feel like [he] was done with state service.” He ran for state treasurer against incumbent John Perdue, who had comfortably won election to the office for six consecutive terms. During his campaign, Moore emphasized that his opponent served as a delegate for Vice President Biden at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, while he served as a delegate for President Trump at the Republican National Convention. He also laid out the plan for his Jumpstart Savings Program, which Gov. Jim Justice signed into law in March of 2021.
According to the governor’s office, “The Jumpstart Savings Program, which is the first program of its kind in the nation, allows individuals who wish to pursue a vocation or trade, ranging from welding to cosmetology, to make tax-free contributions to a savings and investment account up to $25,000 each year. Family members and the individual’s employer can also make contributions to the account. The beneficiary can later withdraw money from the account – which will also be tax-free up to $25,000 each year – to help cover equipment, tools, certifications, licenses, and business startup costs used in a vocation or trade.”
The treasurer was exceptionally satisfied with the implementation of this program, which emboldened him to take on some of the nation’s largest financial institutions. On Thursday, July 28, his office canceled state contracts with five of the aforementioned institutions because of their corporate-wide boycotts of fossil fuels, a product of the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) movement. Moore described himself as “just another red-blooded American out here trying to fight for jobs and industries in West Virginia and trying to stand up for what I think is right. So I don't care how many assets under management Larry Fink or the rest of those guys have.” Fink is the CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with $8.48 trillion in assets under management, and holds a board seat on Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum.
The treasurer said that we should expect to see Texas announce a similar move with its state banking contracts “this year,” in addition to those in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.
Treasurer Moore shared that he is motivated by his “Christian views and morality and biblical teaching that I've taken upon myself.” Moore became more devoted to his Catholic faith through the death of his maternal grandparents and his marriage to his wife Mina, with whom he has three children: two daughters ages two and four, and a three-month-old son.
Before he gets to the treasury, Moore drops his daughters off at school, which he describes as “one of the best parts of my whole day.” The treasurer holds himself to a strict exercise regimen, working out anywhere from one-and-a-half to two hours per day. He’s currently alternating between a few books: Alex Epstein’s Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas--Not Less, Steven Koonin’s Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters, and Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery.
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The treasurer’s dedication to his state, principles, and faith is not going unnoticed by those in conservative advocacy and intellectual circles. In early July, he sat for an interview with Kevin Roberts at the Heritage Foundation. A few weeks later, he was back in D.C. for a podcast with Saurabh Sharma’s American Moment. Next month, he’ll be in Miami as a speaker at Hazony’s National Conservatism Conference.
Moore’s term as treasurer is slotted to end in 2024, as well as Sen. Manchin’s second full term in the Senate, for which the senior senator plans to run for reelection according to an April CNBC report. When asked about future electoral prospects, Moore said that “any decision I make will be after the 2022 elections. [I’m] certainly open to entertaining any option, but right now I’m just focused on this, but [I’m] certainly always honored to be asked.”
Moore talks with the calm of Andy Griffith and governs with the zeal of Barney Fife. While his Mayberry is now the state treasury, West Virginia voters could soon find another place for him.