By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mike Hall, chief of staff to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, seems comfortable in his leather-backed chair in an office overlooking the south lawn of the state Capitol building.
He is explaining how he went from seminary into politics, ending up in the highest ranks of state government.
“I can almost say I’ve had three different lives,” said Hall, 69.
Mike Hall grew up in Huntington and graduated from Huntington East High School before also enrolling in Marshall University.
He then decided to go to seminary.
“It seemed to be natural,” Hall said. “I was involved in student ministry when I was in college.”
“At the time, I had a sense that this was a good place to serve out my Christian faith,” Hall said.
Hall had been in seminary for a year when he was asked to pastor at a small Methodist church in Apple Grove. He was able to continue his theological studies, commuting from Mason County to a Methodist school in Columbus, Ohio.
“You could not run for office as a Methodist,” Hall noted, but in 1980 he was asked to come to a small Presbytery on Charleston’s West Side.
At the time, Hall remembered, “I don’t think I’d been (in Charleston) five times.”
Hall was living in Pliny at the time, and, as he had done during seminary, he commuted to church in Charleston.
During the 1980s, state government was still controlled almost exclusively by Democrats. The state Republican Party would sometimes recruit candidates to run for different offices, if only to have a presence on the ballot.
In 1984, Hall decided to run for the House of Delegates in Mason and Putnam counties.
“I ran for the House of Delegates — about believing I had no chance,” Hall recalled.
He won the primary, not quite realizing there were four seats in the district and only three Republican candidates. But he lost the general election to a stable of candidates that included Democrats Debbie Phillips and Pat White.
But, said Hall, “I kind of got the bug.”
And he decided to run for office again.
Meanwhile, in 1991, the West Side church he had pastored for the past 13 years burned down. The congregation met for a time at a local Union Mission, but Hall was then asked to go to work for the religious denomination in Atlanta.
Hall had an insurance license and had already been learning accounting skills, and he put the experience to work int the new job. In 1994, Hall moved to Hurricane in Putnam County and again ran for the House of Delegates.
From that day forward, “I just started learning about state government,” Hall said.
By 1998, he was on the House Finance Committee, and “when (Republican) Charles Trump left the House and (Democrat) Bob Kiss left the House, I decided to run for the Senate,” Hall said.
Hall served in the Senate from 2006 until appointed chief of staff in August. He served several years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
One constant throughout Hall’s career, however, has been his faith. Hall doesn’t see the change from seminary to politics as a change of direction, but as a natural progression.
“A lot has happened in my life,” he said. “You can always see the hand of God in it.”
Hall subscribes to the Martin Luther-inspired Doctrine of Vocation, which suggests that whatever one decides to do with one’s life is God’s calling.
“As you do what you do in your life, it’s as sacred as the preacher,” Hall said. “It’s just another calling.”
Larry Puccio, chief of staff under former Gov. Joe Manchin, said Hall’s background in finance and in the Senate make him well-suited as chief of staff.
In addition, Puccio said, “He’s such a likable person and has so much credibility that people just trust him.”