Photo of: Eric Ayres/File
CHARLESTON – As he wraps up for the next few weeks as the 1st Circuit representative in Congress, Representative David McKinley takes stock of the past nearly 12 years of Legislative Service.
Since taking office in 2011, McKinley, RW.Va., has had a mission for himself and his associates: “…to help the citizens of West Virginia achieve the highest quality of life.” McKinley hopes that he has lived up to that goal, and hopes that one day Congress will return to bipartisan solutions for the nation.
“That was my mission,” McKinley said by phone on Tuesday. “We began our meetings with ‘What have we done for West Virginia today,’ not with what we have done for our party. I hope that in the years to come we will be able to influence people to legislate again; that it is not a bad word for negotiation or compromise and finding a meeting place between two sides.”
When McKinley completes his sixth two-year term in the US House of Representatives later this year, he will be the last representative in the current 1st congressional district, which stretches from Wood County in the west to Mineral County in the east. from Hancock County in the north to Gilmer County in the south.
Due to West Virginia’s population loss, the state fell from three congressional districts to two. Following last year’s redistribution, McKinley’s 1st District was merged with the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Rep. Alex Mooney, RW.Va., to form the new northern 2nd District. After challenging each other in a heated Republican primary in May, Mooney defeated McKinley by more than 30 percentage points.
It was a heavy loss for McKinley, who began his second political life by winning the 1st congressional district race after former Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan – a 28-year incumbent – lost the 2010 Democratic primary to former Democratic state senator Mike Oliverio (Oliverio switched registration from Democrat to Republican and will return to the State Senate in 2023).
McKinley — a businessman, engineer, former legislator, and leader of the West Virginia Republican Party — defeated Oliverio in the 2010 general election, aligning himself with former 2nd District Republican congressman Shelley Moore Capito and leaving only former 3rd District congressman , Nick Rahall, as West Virginia is the last remaining Democrat in the US House of Representatives.
The composition of the branches of government through 2023 — with Democratic President Joe Biden, a Senate in Democratic hands and a House in Republican hands — is reminiscent of the political landscape McKinley wandered into in 2011. McKinley said the only way for the parties to work under such a division is to work together.
“I think people are starting to get tired of idealism,” McKinley said. “We’re supposed to be a representative form of government, not a parliament that’s all about party affiliation. That is their allegiance – to their party. My allegiance throughout my 12 years in Congress has been to my state.”
According to statistics compiled by McKinley’s office, between 2011 and 2022, 29 bills where McKinley was the lead sponsor were signed, 49 McKinley-led bills were passed by the House of Representatives, and he was able to offer 103 successful amendments to other bills. During his career, McKinley introduced nearly 200 bills and resolutions—bills that often garnered bipartisan support.
McKinley was as busy within the state as he was in the halls of Congress. According to his office, McKinley’s constituent services team worked to resolve 10,000 cases where residents needed help navigating federal bureaucracy. And McKinley himself held more than 3,000 meetings with constituents within state lines.
And McKinley has no intention of putting his feet up and idling in the final weeks of his tenure. He has already met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — who could be the next House Speaker — to give him input on legislation that could come after the new Republican majority took control in January.
McKinley remains focused on the state’s energy sector — coal and natural gas. McKinley, a senior Republican member of the House Energy and Trade Committee on the Environment Subcommittee, wants legislation to help the nation achieve net-zero carbon emissions while keeping coal and natural gas in the mix, and that technology then market to developing countries Help them reduce their carbon emissions.
“Coal and natural gas are still very much in the crosshairs of extreme environmentalists,” McKinley said. “I hope we can restart this program again. We are learning that we have to take the lead here worldwide. If we can come up with a strategy to cut emissions, then we can commercialize it and then take it to China, India, Indonesia, Japan and other nations that are still obsessed with using coal, which is great because it’s one of the greatest things there is for us in export.”
Another key component of McKinley’s energy strategy is the approval of reforms to get natural gas pipeline projects off the ground. Both Senators Manchin and Capito offered their own permitting reform bills, but Capito’s bill was never acted upon and Manchin’s language was drawn from an ongoing government funding resolution in September after Senate Republicans refused to endorse it after Manchin had voted for the inflation reduction law. McKinley wants discussions about approving reforms to resume.
“I spoke to[Manchin and Capito]last week about allowing reform,” McKinley said. “We need this permitting reform so that we can bring our natural resources to market. Right now, without plumbing and a network, we’re limited to what we can consume in West Virginia, and that’s limited. We have no downstream manufacturing that takes up the quantity we have. We need to get these pipelines built.
“I see that some leaders in the House of Representatives want to punish[Manchin]for his vote on the IRA,” McKinley continued. “Did I (Manchin) agree? Absolutely not, but if you punish Joe and don’t get pipeline reform, you’re hurting West Virginia.”
McKinley remains concerned about the influx of opioids – particularly fentanyl – into the country. McKinley said Congress still had work to do to break the chains of substance use disorder.
“We need to end things with opioids,” McKinley said. “It’s just a silent killer wiping out our young people and making it harder to find workers. I hope we can close some of the opioid addiction funding.”
Finally, McKinley wants to ensure that funds from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act continue to flow to West Virginia. McKinley, Capito and Manchin all supported the bill, which will bring the state between $6 billion and $8 billion in infrastructure funding.
McKinley credited the bill for helping North Carolina’s Nucor select Mason County for a new steel mill and the new Mountaintop Beverage facility in Morgantown that will produce long-life dairy products. The state is building a new hub that will benefit the facility.
“I want to continue to monitor the infrastructure bill and spending on it,” McKinley said. “Many of our economic development plans are all invested in the infrastructure bill. Without that, they wouldn’t happen.”
McKinley and his associates are working on a book that will highlight their achievements on behalf of West Virginia and will include blurbs from state officials and fellow congressmen. McKinley hopes the book will show what can be done by focusing on legislation and less on opposing it on political issues or media attention.
“I want people to understand that you can get things done without compromising your conservative principles,” McKinley said. “We have 105 pages, and some of the pages are testimonials … that say, ‘That’s the only thing you’ll always remember about McKinley is that he stood up for West Virginia. He was always a voice for West Virginia.” To me, that’s our job; not what our own political future is. But do we represent our state and our district?”