“Morrisey and the three bears: There’s a story behind popular figures guarding attorney general’s office”

This story originally appeared in the November 29, 2012 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

Heads are bound to roll when Patrick Morrisey becomes West Virginia’s attorney general in January, but it now appears some of Darrell McGraw’s most popular staff members will get to keep their jobs.

Political adviser Scott Will said Morrisey currently has no plans to remove the stuffed black bears from outside the attorney general’s office.

“We will not rush to judgment on this critical issue of whether to keep the bears,” Will wrote in an email earlier this week. “We may even decide to hold off deciding until we finish our first 100 days in office. Getting this decision right is that important.”

The three bears came to live outside McGraw’s office in 2001, but the display originally started with just one bear outside former Secretary of State Ken Hechler’s office.

When Hechler took office in January 1985, he already had a collection of art depicting the state fish, the state tree and the state flower.

“Since the black bear is the state animal, I wanted to obtain a black bear or two to keep in the entrance to my office,” he said.

He called up the state Department of Natural Resources. Employees there had killed an ornery black bear in Clay County a few years before when it was caught robbing people’s beehives.

The animal was already at the taxidermist’s shop, so Hechler called up the owner and made arrangements to purchase it, according to a Daily Mail story at the time.

He parked the bear outside his Capitol office, where it quickly became a popular stop for passing constituents. Members of the public often would stop by his office, to be photographed not with the secretary of state, but with his pet bear.
Hechler added another bear to the collection in 1994.

The original bear was looking a little scraggly after many encounters with visiting school children, so the secretary decided to have it restored and get another one.

It’s unclear where this second bear came from.

Three years later, Hechler used the bears for a tongue-in-cheek statement on the Second Amendment. He placed a rifle in each animal’s paws and hung a yellow sign around one’s neck. It read, “We support the right to arm bears.”

After announcing he would not seek re-election in 2000, Hechler began hunting for a new home for his bears. His only requirement was the new owner must continue to display the “arm bears” sign.

According to a Daily Mail story from the time, he received more than 30 offers from around the state to adopt the creatures.

It was Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s offer that won over Hechler.

He said McGraw had always expressed interest in the bears, and the attorney general promised to keep them outside his own Capitol office so they would remain on public display. In return, Hechler eased his requirement on the sign.

When Hechler left office in January 2001, the bears were wheeled down the Capitol’s West Wing, through the Rotunda, and into an alcove outside McGraw’s office.

A third bear joined the family some time after the display arrived in the East Wing. This one is smaller than the first two, but strikes a much more ferocious pose with its teeth bared and one paw raised, ready to strike.

It hasn’t scared anyone off, however.

“You’ll see people down there taking pictures all the time,” said Capitol tour guide Mary Ann Long.

Although the bears are not on the official tour, Long said she takes groups past the animals if they request it.

Tour guide Grace Welch said the bears are especially popular with students, who like to stop on their way to the state Supreme Court chambers.

 

“Capitol office bear-en, bear-eft”

This story originally appeared in the December 4, 2012 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

The halls outside Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s office are looking a little “bear.”

That’s because on Monday, some of McGraw’s office staff loaded up the three stuffed black bears that have lived outside the office for the last decade and transported them back to their original owners.

“The attorney general wanted to return them to their rightful owners. They were always on loan to him,” said Joe Clay, McGraw’s chief financial officer.

Clay also serves as the office’s comptroller and, by his own admission, “occasional bear distributor.” He and some other staffers unbolted the bears from their wooden pedestal Monday morning and loaded them into a truck.

Two went back to Ken Hechler, the former secretary of state who brought the first stuffed bear to the Capitol in the 1980s.

“Since the black bear is the state animal, I wanted to obtain a black bear or two to keep in the entrance to my office,” he told the Daily Mail last week.

Hechler added another bear to his collection in the 1990s, and then loaned the animals to McGraw when he left office in 2001 after the attorney general promised to keep them on public display.

When McGraw lost to Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey in November, he called the former secretary of state and asked if he wanted his bears back.

“Ken was very excited to see them this morning,” said Linda Harvey, Hechler’s administrative assistant.

The animals now will reside at Hechler’s Kanawha City office. Harvey said they would remain in the office until Hechler, 98, dies.

“They’d been putting all kinds of stuff in the newspaper, as if the state government was going to decide where they went,” she said.

She said the government never had any claim to the bears, however, since Hechler purchased them with his own money.

Upon their return, Hechler promptly renamed one of the bears “Gibson,” after his friend, mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson.

The third bear, the baby of the family, came to live at the Capitol sometime after 2001, when Hechler left office and loaned the animals to McGraw’s office. That bear belonged to former senior assistant attorney general Rex Burford.

Burford now lives in Wilmington, N.C., but said in a short phone interview Monday that his bear would be sent to live with “a nominee” here in the Mountain State.

The Daily Mail’s interview with Burford was cut short.

“You’ve had your fun,” he said before hanging up. “It’s over.”

Clay said the animals would be missed around the Capitol. Visitors, especially schoolchildren on class trips, often stopped by the Attorney General’s Office to pose for photos with the bears.

“You get a 3- or 4-year-old running through the Capitol, it’s something they like to look at,” Clay said.

“The bears have been quite a staple around here for quite a while. Maybe somebody else will start a bear collection.”

 

“Attorney general’s office: incoming official taps key staffers”

This story originally appeared in the January 10, 2012 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

When attorney general-elect Patrick Morrisey takes office next week, he will take a Charleston city councilman, a former attorney general candidate, a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk and the executive director of a lawsuit abuse group with him.

There also could be a few black bears tagging along.

Morrisey announced upcoming changes to the Attorney General’s Office during a press conference Wednesday afternoon in the state Capitol Rotunda.

….

Although he would not say how many former McGraw staffers would get to keep their jobs, Morrisey said not everyone from his predecessor’s administration would be fired.

Also at Wednesday’s press conference, Morrisey showed off a letter from the West Virginia Bear Hunters Association, promising his office “one or more black bear displays” to display at his Capitol office.

McGraw’s office previously had three stuffed black bears sitting outside the East Wing office, but those were on loan from former Secretary of State Ken Hechler. When McGraw lost in the November election, attorney general staffers took the bears to Hechler’s Kanawha City office.

Morrisey said his office would hold an official ceremony and naming contest when the new bears arrived at the Capitol.

He said he also would announce how the office would handle leftover “trinkets” from the McGraw’s administration.

“I think this is going to be a made-for-TV event,” he said.

 

“Office of Attorney General vandalized, theft of bear’s paw called ‘serious crime'”

This story originally appeared in the August 12, 2013 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

Each day, dozens of people walk past the taxidermied bear sitting in front of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office. Visitors often stop to take its picture. School children frequently pet the animal.

For Capitol regulars, the bear sometimes just blends into the east wing’s marble walls.

But last Tuesday, a receptionist noticed something that gave her pause.

“Somebody, we don’t know who, cut part of its paw off,” said Attorney General spokeswoman Beth Ryan.

The two middle toes on its left front paw are gone, and the taxidermy mold is showing from underneath.

“It looks like they used a pocket knife or something,” Ryan said. “It’s crazy.”

“I don’t see the point in defacing something that represents the state animal.”

She said the vandalism probably happened either Sunday or Monday, but no one noticed the damage until Tuesday evening. Morrisey’s office promptly filed a report with Capitol police.

The Daily Mail was unable to obtain a copy of the police report, as officers are still investigating the claim. The officer conducting the investigation was not in the office Friday and calls to Kevin Foreman, deputy director of the state Division of Protective Services, were not immediately returned.

Finding out who defaced the poor bear might be difficult, however. Ryan said there are no security cameras monitoring the hallway outside the Attorney General’s office, just the entryways.

But if the culprit is ever caught, they could face serious charges.

State law forbids anyone from having possession of a bear or parts of a bear unless the animal was killed in hunting season and properly registered with the Division of Natural Resources.

According to state law “bear parts” include, but are not limited to, the animal’s pelt, gallbladder, skull and claws.

“Basically, you’d have to have a checking tag or a special tag to possess it,” DNR training officer Lt. Tim Coleman said.

The laws are meant to discourage poachers. Bear gallbladders are considered aphrodisiacs in some countries, Coleman said.

The internal organs were quite expensive a few years ago and Coleman said DNR officers would sometimes find dead bears in the woods, with just their gallbladders cut out.

Coleman said the law would apply even to taxidermied bears.

“There’s no expiration date on possession of the parts,” he said.

Anyone caught with unauthorized bear parts faces a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 100 days in jail. The offender’s hunting and fishing licenses also would be suspended for two years.

The charges could be bumped up to a felony if the culprit has violated these laws before.

“It’s a pretty serious crime as far as wildlife is concerned,” Coleman said.

This is just the latest drama involving the Attorney General’s office and stuffed bears.

Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw had two stuffed bears in front of his office. Some worried Morrisey would remove them once assumed the office in January, but Morrisey vowed to keep the animals in place.

That all changed when former Secretary of State Ken Hechler decided to reclaim the bears. Hechler purchased the bears in the 1980s and 1990s to decorate his office, but loaned them to McGraw after he left office in 2001. The attorney general promised to keep them on public display.

When McGraw lost to Morrisey in November 2012, he called the former secretary of state and asked if he wanted his bears back. They now reside in Hechler’s Kanawha City apartment.

The West Virginia Bear Hunters Association then pledged to donate more bears to Morrisey’s office.

Those bears have not shown up yet, but Morrisey’s staff found another taxidermied bear while cleaning out storage space in the Capitol. It’s unclear where the bear came from.

 

“Morrisey’s office gets new stuffed black bear”

This story originally appeared in the August 27, 2013 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

After becoming nearly extinct earlier this year, the black bear population in the West Virginia Capitol is slowly rebounding.

The West Virginia Bear Hunters Association on Friday delivered a 200-pound stuffed black bear to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s Office.

The animal now sits where former Attorney General Darrell McGraw kept his own taxidermied black bear collection, in an alcove near the Capitol’s east wing.

Mounted by Warner’s Taxidermy in Buckhannon, the female bear stands on a three-foot-tall barn wood pedestal, covered with moss, leaves, roots and greenery. The four-year-old sow stands semi-upright, with her front paws leaning on a rock.

She’s a friendly-looking bear, with a slight smirk and playful posture. Her coat is solid black, except for a buff-colored muzzle.

“It’s a really good, pretty mount. It’s a nice addition to that section of our office and that section of the Capitol,” Attorney General spokeswoman Beth Ryan said.

Miranda Ware, 18, of Upshur County, killed the bear on Dec. 14, 2012. Her family had it mounted, and then loaned it to the Attorney General’s Office through the West Virginia Bear Hunter’s Association.

Ware accompanied the bear to its temporary home last week, even posing for a few pictures with Morrisey.

The animal will remain at the Capitol for a year, after which the Bear Hunter’s Association will replace it with another stuffed bear.

“The goal is, they want to have a new bear put on display each year,” Ryan said.

McGraw’s three bears were returned to their rightful owners – former Secretary of State Ken Hechler and former senior assistant attorney general Rex Burford – just before Morrisey took office in January.

Morrisey is now slowly building his own collection. Staff members found a stuffed bear in one of the Attorney General’s storage spaces. That animal now protects the office’s main entrance.

A few weeks ago, someone – no one is sure who – tore off part of that bear’s left-front paw. The Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint with Capitol police over the vandalism, but Ryan said they have not received any updates.

There are no security cameras in the hallway outside Morrisey’s offices, so the culprit might never be caught.

Ryan said the office is looking at ways to fix the bear’s wounded paw, however. She had members of the Bear Hunters Association take a look at the other bear, to see if there is a way to repair it.

“It should be something that’s repairable,” she said. “We’re working on it.”

The Attorney General’s Office will soon launch a naming contest for both stuffed bears through its Facebook and Twitter pages.

While the names will be left to voters, Ryan has a suggestion for the office’s maimed mascot: “Lefty.”