CHARLES TOWN – Robert E. Barrat, a lawyer running against Republican Jane Tabb as she seeks a third term on the Jefferson County Commission in next month’s general election, might have remained an orchardist and farmer but, he said, everything changed the fall his apples sold for 2 cents a pound.
It was 1984 and he’d been farming for 10 years when the bottom fell out of the market. He owned about 60 acres of crop and orchard land and was leasing several other farms.
“I lost about $20,000 that year,” the 62-year-old said. “I said to myself, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to find a better way to make a living. I’m going to law school.’”
He enrolled in law school at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, a town about 60 miles from Toledo and learned his law degree in 1994. He then opened a law office in Berkeley County.
Much of his legal work over the years has been in court-appointed criminal and abuse and neglect cases from 23rd Circuit Court judges, he said.
Barrat’s bachelor’s degree is in agriculture from West Virginia University. He’d attended Jefferson High before transfeerring to Cushing Academy, a private school an hour from Boston in Ashburnham, Mass.
Barrat’s foray into politics came in August when the county’s Democratic Executive Committee sought a candidate from the Middleway District to run for the JCC after Carol Grant, who’d been unopposed in the May primary, dropped out.
Tabb won a spot on the November ballot by narrowly beating out Jack Hefestay, an ultra-conservative who serves on the Planning Commission and the Historic Landmarks Commission. Some registered Democrats switched to independent or Republican to vote for Tabb in the primary.
The Democratic Party wanted to replace Grant “to give voters a choice, have a debate and an opportunity to hear the issues,” explained John Maxey, the Dems’ executive committee’s vice-chairman.
“I didn’t want Tabb to run unopposed. It’s not fair, really,” Barrat said. “I supported the Democratic Party and I’ve always been interested politically.”
Barrat said he’s been trying to make up for his lack of political experience by learning as he goes, including attending JCC meetings.
He’s also attached his campaign to the hottest controversy facing Jefferson County government and citizens in years— the $150 million stonewool insulation manufacturing factory under construction in Ranson. “The Jefferson County Rockwool crisis has the potential to be a disaster bigger than the Civil War,” Barrat said.
Barrat said he is working with other Democratic candidates, including campaigning door-to-door. His campaign isn’t accepting donations, he said.
In addition to his opposition to Rockwool, Barrat said his other goals on the JCC will include pushing for faster Internet service, working harder on the opioid problem and supporting drug court and the Day Report Center. “If addicts don’t get treatment in jail they’ll go back on drugs when they come out,” he said.
Barrat’s wife, Anne, used to teach at T.A. Lowery Elementary and now works for an educational software for a firm in Herndon, Va.
The couple, who live in Shenandoah Junction, are the parents of two, both of whom graduated from Jefferson High.
Barrat also spent 21 years in the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, in aircraft maintenance. He started with an enlisted rank and rose to the rank of major by the time he retired.
“I flew more than 20 deployments over that time, from Germany to the Middle East and Central America. My last deployment was on the cleanup crew in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”