Baxter, Orrick chief, considers Senate run

WHEELING – Ralph Baxter brought Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Global Operations Center to West Virginia in 2002. Now, the Democrat may seek election as the Mountain State’s next U.S. senator in 2014.

Baxter, 66, will step down as chairman and chief executive officer of the international law firm at the end of December, at which time he plans to settle down in the home he purchased in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling. He has served as Orrick’s chairman and CEO since 1990.

Even though the firm is based in San Francisco, it has offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Baxter said he now considers Wheeling his home, though he continues to travel extensively in his last year with Orrick.

Baxter acknowledged he is considering a run on the Democrat ticket in 2014 for the Senate seat being vacated by longtime Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

“You never know,” he said. “Now that Sen. Rockefeller is not seeking re-election, a Democrat needs to step up and run. I’m flattered my name is being mentioned and I will think about it.

“For now, my priorities are to get me and my family to Wheeling. I’m working on finishing up my last year at Orrick, moving into my house in Wheeling, and orienting my life in West Virginia.”

A member of the West Virginia Education Alliance, Baxter, a former teacher, plans to visit schools across the state and focus on education issues once he settles in West Virginia. He said he hopes to meet with students, parents and teachers to learn how the state could best improve its schools.

“It will be part of what I bring to the table at the West Virginia Education Alliance,” Baxter said. “But the real reason to do this is to prepare me to do something, something to give back to my state. I go at this not knowing what that will be.”

Baxter said his parents and ancestors all were born in Wetzel County. His father, Ralph Sr., a native of Proctor, just turned 100 years old and lives in Clearwater, Fla. His late mother, Edith, was born in Pine Grove.

Ralph Sr. was stationed in San Francisco while in the military, allowing Baxter to be born in the California city.

The family then moved back to West Virginia, and Baxter spent some years as a child in the Northern Panhandle.

“Then my parents moved back to California,” he continued. “I did spend my life in California and other places until 12 years ago, when the law firm was looking to open the Orrick Global Operations Center.

“That brought me back in touch with West Virginia and Wheeling. As a kid, we couldn’t afford to live in Wheeling. We lived in Weirton and Wellsburg,” he said.

Baxter has not held public office, but he has been active in public service both in California and West Virginia.

In addition to his work with the West Virginia Education Alliance, Baxter serves on the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council and has co-chaired the Governor’s 21st Century Jobs Cabinet since 2006.

In California, Baxter serves on the state Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth and has represented San Francisco and the state on trade missions to China.

On Wednesday, Baxter spoke from his office in New York City, where sirens could be heard in the background.

“I do love West Virginia,” he said. “I can’t wait to spend time there. The peace and quiet will be enjoyable.”