Arch A. Moore Jr., a charismatic populist who served six terms in Congress and three terms as governor of West Virginia before being convicted in 1990 on widespread corruption charges and having his law license revoked, died Jan. 7 in Charleston, W.Va. He was 91.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a daughter of the former governor, announced the death but did not cite a cause.
Mr. Moore’s family was long involved in Mountain State politics. A grandfather was a mayor of Moundsville — a northern panhandle city where the future congressman and governor was born — and an uncle was minority leader in the state House of Delegates.
Arch Moore, a Republican, drew national attention for his rise to the top office in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. A decorated World War II veteran, he earned a law degree and began his political ascent in the state House of Delegates before winning a congressional seat in 1956.
He endeared himself to constituents with his bravado on the stump, his backslapping demeanor and his ability to remember seemingly everyone’s name.
Mr. Moore’s victory in the 1968 governor’s race was attributed to several factors, not least the indictment of a former Democratic governor, W.W. “Wally” Barron, on bribery and conspiracy charges. Mr. Moore’s candidacy may also have received a boost of sympathy after he survived a helicopter crash on his way to a campaign stop.
During his first term as governor, Mr. Moore benefited from two changes to the state constitution: the ratification of the Modern Budget Amendment, giving the governor greater power to shape annual spending proposals, and passage of a law allowing a governor to seek a second consecutive term.
He did just that in 1972, crushing Democratic challenger John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, the oil fortune heir, despite being outspent $1.5 million to $700,000. Rockefeller’s opposition to surface mining was a significant factor in his loss to Mr. Moore in a state heavily dependent on coal mining.
Mr. Moore spent the final weeks of the race canvassing the coal region, normally a Democratic stronghold. He accused Rockefeller of seeking to “destroy” the industry in an effort to help his family’s oil interests.
He also labeled Rockefeller, a native New Yorker then serving as West Virginia’s secretary of state, a carpetbagger. The Moore campaign ran TV commercials showing New Yorkers being asked, “How’d you like to have a governor of New York from West Virginia?”
In 1976, Mr. Moore sought a third consecutive term as governor, but the state supreme court, citing the state constitution, ruled him ineligible. Rockefeller, who had tempered his views on the coal industry, won the general election, served two terms and then began a long career in the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Moore lost runs for the U.S. Senate in 1978 and the governorship in 1980 — again facing Rockefeller. His supporters displayed a soak-the-rich bumper sticker that read, “Make him spend it all, Arch.” Then, in 1984, with Rockefeller out of the picture, Mr. Moore made a comeback as the state’s chief executive.
In his first two terms, Mr. Moore resolved crippling mining strikes, created massive public works projects and helped resolve a prison riot. He also served as chairman of the National Governors Association.
His tenure also included a string of controversies. In 1969, he fired 2,600 striking state highway maintenance employees amid a heavy snowfall that left roads uncleared. He said he had “no choice but to act with decisiveness.”
He perplexed many with his $1 million settlement with the Pittston Coal Co. after a catastrophic dam collapse and mass flooding in 1972 that left 125 dead, 1,100 injured and about 4,000 homeless.
Following what became known as the Buffalo Creek disaster, the state sued Pittston for $100 million, alleging negligence, but company officials called the flood an “act of God.” Because of Mr. Moore’s settlement — made days before he left office in his second term — the state eventually paid nearly $10 million to the federal government in cleanup costs. Buffalo Creek survivors received small payouts through civil lawsuits.
Mr. Moore and others in his administration were trailed by accusations of corruption. His liquor commissioner was convicted on federal racketeering, extortion and mail fraud charges. In 1975, Mr. Moore and a top aide were indicted for conspiring to extort $25,000 from a savings and loan that sought a bank charter from the state. They were acquitted in 1976.
Mr. Moore’s political future remained in doubt until the 1984 governor’s race. The state’s economy was sputtering, and Mr. Moore cast himself as an energetic savior able to lead the state “out of its long winter of discontent.” Despite the whiff of scandal about him, his “personal magnetism and appeal” was cited by the state Republican chairman as a major reason for his triumph at the polls.
His third term coincided with one of the worst prison riots in the state’s history, and he clashed with the Democratically controlled legislature over state finances amid a rise in unemployment and a downturn in the coal industry. He lost a reelection bid in 1988 to Democrat Gaston Caperton, a businessman.
Two years later, faced with corruption-related charges stemming from his 1984 and 1988 campaigns, Mr. Moore pleaded guilty to extortion, mail fraud, obstruction of justice and filing false income-tax returns.
The charges included accusations that he accepted $100,000 in illegal contributions and tried to extort $573,000 from a coal executive in return for help getting the man $2.3 million in reimbursement from the state’s black lung compensation program.
Mr. Moore, who tried to rescind his guilty pleas, served about three years in prison and was released in 1993.
Arch Alfred Moore Jr. was born April 16, 1923. During Army service in World War II, he attained the rank of sergeant and was wounded in the jaw by gunfire during combat in Germany. His decorations included the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
He graduated in 1948 from West Virginia University, where three years later he also received a law degree. He was elected to the state House of Delegates in 1952.
His wife, the former Shelley Riley, died in September. Besides Capito, a Republican who served seven terms in the House before winning a Senate seat last year, survivors include two other children, Lucy Moore Durbin and Arch A. Moore III.
Disbarred in 1991, Mr. Moore spent years trying to have his law license reinstated, explaining, “I want to die a lawyer.”
The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against him in 2003, concluding that Mr. Moore was guilty of “extremely serious misconduct” that reveals “a willingness — on a sustained and knowing basis — to be dishonest, to deceive, to conceal the truth and to bend, manipulate and violate the law, for personal and professional gain.”