This article originally provided by Sunday Gazette-Mail

April 16, 2006

Newcomer helps put Senate race at top in spending

By Tom Searls
Staff writer

It is this year’s ultimate primary election battle for a state Senate seat, with three Democrats splitting up the field and spending more than candidates in any of the state’s other 16 districts.

Two of the candidates are established Raleigh County politicians, but they haven’t raised and spent as much combined as a 32-year-old greyhound breeder, who has never run for office.

Mike Green reported spending $156,000 for the 9th District Senate seat, representing Raleigh and Wyoming counties, by the end of March. He hasn’t stopped spending.

“I know we’ve spent more at this point,” Green said last week.

“Once we decided to run, we were going to run to win.”

Green, previously a lobbyist representing greyhound breeders at the Legislature, said he needed to spend that amount to get his name as well known as his opponents: Sally Susman, a state delegate, and Bill Wooton, a former state senator.

Having loaned himself $128,000, Green has been on TV since last fall and is saturating radio and TV airwaves in the region. He believes his strategy is working, and says his polls show a statistical dead heat among the three going into the final four weeks of the campaign.

“[Susman and Wooton] are looking at the same polling numbers we are and I think we’ve surprised them,” he said.

When he announced his campaign last year, Green told The Register-Herald of Beckley he planned to spend up to $250,000.

Susman, who has received one $1,000 contribution and loaned her campaign $72,600, had spent $58,299 at the end of the first reporting period. She believes she’ll be forced to pour more of her own cash into the race.

She can match Green’s spending. “I reckon,” she said. “But who wants to?”

Green has identified himself to voters as a property developer, a business he only recently entered. Both Susman and Wooton are quick to point out Green has earned a lot of money from the state greyhound breeders’ fund.

“He gets mad when anybody mentions he has any ties to the track,” Susman said.

“Green’s only experience is he’s been a lobbyist and he’s tied to gambling,” said Wooton.

“He’s gotten about $30,700 in contributions for his campaign and the largest amount is [from] greyhound breeders,” Susman said.

Wooton called it money from “gambling interests.”

Their criticism doesn’t surprise Green. He has polled that issue, too, and said voters don’t seem concerned.

Kennel operators and greyhound breeders from Wheeling and Putnam County, as well as states like Kansas and Arizona, have donated to Green’s campaign, along with the president of a firm that owns one of the state’s four tracks.

“About half [of my donations] come from kennel operators and breeders who are just personal friends I’ve made over the years,” Green said.

“Apparently either they are finding ways to funnel money to him or [greyhound breeding is] the most lucrative business that there ever was,” said Wooton, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

“It can’t possibly help him to have that gambling money,” said Susman.

She finds it odd a single “industry is plowing that much into a race.” But she believes that’s the source of Green’s campaign funds. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” she said.

Green graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1991, then was a biology major at Concord College before being employed for a short time as a Beckley police officer. After that he got into the greyhound breeding business.

Since 2001, state records show he has been paid more than $260,0000 from the state Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. “I suspect that people are going to be a little concerned about his business background and the source of his money,” Wooton said.

Susman questioned why the racing industry would place so much money into a state Senate race. “Maybe the track people want it for table games [legislation],” she said referring to proposals defeated two consecutive years to allow casino-style table games at the state’s four racetracks.

“I’m not for the expansion of gambling,” said Green, who does favor the proposal to allow residents of the four counties with racetracks to vote on allowing casino-style gambling.

Susman, he said, voted to legalize video lottery, or slot, machines at neighborhood bars throughout the state. “That’s been more of an expansion of gambling than the four destination tracks,” he said.

“He’s running a tough race,” conceded Wooton, who raised $76,530 and spent slightly more than $17,000 by the end of the first reporting period.

The former senator noted he received contributions from 160 Raleigh County residents. “I was real pleased with my fundraising,” he said.

As of last week, Wooton had not placed ads on TV. Susman had earlier stopped her television advertising for a short time and started back last week. “I’ll stay on the air until the election,” she said.

She’s not certain what all the exposure has done for Green’s campaign. “I can’t tell what’s going on but surely Green’s making some headway,” she said.

Wooton may be watching what Susman is doing more than the biggest spender. “I think the real competition for me is Susman,” he said.

Four years ago, Wooton was upset in his re-election bid by little-known Republican Russ Weeks. Weeks and his allies used Wooton’s pro-choice stance on abortion against him in the campaign.

This time around, both of Wooton’s Democratic opponents are making a big deal of being anti-abortion.

“When I took the poll early on, almost 70 percent of Democrats said they wouldn’t vote for anyone that wasn’t pro-life,” Susman said.

Green also says he is anti-abortion, but has tried to not attack opponents. “We’ve made so much gains by being positive and talking about issues,” he said.

For him, those issues are new coal technology, jobs and economic development. “That’s what we based our campaign on,” he said.

“He doesn’t have a record,” retorted Susman.

Green thinks his lack of a record and youth have turned out to be positives. “People are tired of the status quo,” he said.

The United Mine Workers and both of the state’s teachers’ organizations have endorsed Susman. That should help her in neighboring Wyoming County, she believes.

“That’s pretty much the base of support [for Wooton] in Wyoming County,” she said.

Susman said she is also not certain what Wooton’s campaign is doing. “He’s got the courthouse behind him,” she said.

Wooton points out he has never been a lobbyist, or related to one. “Susman, both her husband and son/campaign manager are lobbyists,” he said.

Susman has said her husband, Alan, a longtime member of the state Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority that governs the West Virginia Turnpike, did not tell her in advance when the authority raised tolls on the 88-mile road by 60 percent in December. That set off a public furor, with the authority finally agreeing to roll back the increase.

Authority members said raising tolls was a necessity because the Legislature mandated it construct an interchange at Shady Spring in Raleigh County prior to any other capital projects. Susman worked hard several years before to gain passage of the interchange mandate, which critics said was to serve residents of Glade Springs resort.

Susman has since voted to rescind that project and worked to roll back the toll increase. Wooton, however, said voters realize she played a part in the problem.

“People are upset about the tolls, but the comment I hear people saying is, ‘How dumb does she think we are?’” he said.

He wants the Senate to put more emphasis on health care, saying the House of Delegates has been more aggressive in that area. Like all candidates, he is pushing for economic development, but said that can only occur with additional infrastructure. The state has scant funds to spend on such projects, with much going to the districts of powerful politicians.

“If you have effective representation in the Legislature, you can get your share,” he said.

Susman is emphasizing family values, new highways and jobs. “There’s just projects down here that we need to get everything moving on,” she said.

To contact staff writer Tom Searls, use e-mail or call 348-5192.

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