Five Questions with John “JB” McCuskey
From the Department of Defense, to the West Virginia House of Delegates, to the State Auditor’s office, what sparked your interest in public service?
My first memories as a child involved campaigning with my dad. As I grew older, I not only watched my father serve our state as a judge, but was most fortunate to watch my mother do the same as she became the state director for now-Senator Shelley Moore Capito. Watching my parents in their roles showed me the impact that public service can have on a state, and motivated me to pursue a similar path. It wasn’t always easy for them, and our family endured our share of election defeats, but our love of West Virginia only grew, and so did my desire to do anything in my power to help make a difference.
What is your fondest memory from your time working with President Bush?
At the campaign rally in Beckley, West Virginia, I was the field director. We were told of the event roughly a week prior to the date. We did our best to get our office ready for ticket distribution, and helped advance prepare the site. We all thought we were ready. We weren’t.
On the morning that we were to begin ticket distribution, a line started before 6 am. By the time we opened the doors, the line was over a mile long. We ended up having to spend hundreds of dollars on pizza and water to feed and hydrate the people waiting, many of whom knew they weren’t going to get tickets, but were willing to wait anyway, just in case.
The event started. The crowd got worked into a frenzy by a litany of local bluegrass bands and patriotic videos. Then President Bush walked out from the top of the building, and Garth Brooks has nothing on W. The crowd lost it. Women were literally crying, everyone was screaming. It wasn’t until then that I realized the hope, optimism, patriotism, and joy that our president brought to the people of my state. It is rare that someone like him takes the time to care about the people of West Virginia, and he truly did. Nothing could have been more evident. This was by far my fondest memory from the campaign.
Today, research commissioned by the Bush Institute shows a civilian-military divide – 71% of Americans say they have little understanding of the issues facing veterans, and 84% of veterans agree. Having worked as a civilian in the Department of Defense and in your time as a state delegate in West Virginia, did you experience this sort of division? And if so, how were you able to bridge those differences?
When I lived in D.C., I certainly experienced this division. However, moving home, these divisions disappear in most regards. West Virginia has the highest percentage of military service in the county. And those that didn’t serve, have a fairly unique and permeating patriotism and respect for our veterans. Our great challenge at home is finding jobs for our heroes when they return, so that we can retain these great men and women.
You’ve been in a number of leadership positions – including in your current role as West Virginia State Auditor. Are there any skills that you picked up or observed during your DoD service that have informed your own leadership style?
Watching members of our military lead, particularly those at the highest levels, was the best education I have ever received. I had not, until that time, been placed in a position to watch people who are so incredibly goal-oriented and organized. Their commitment to execution and success were truly infectious.
While I will never be able to truly replicate their style, the greatest lesson I learned is that no one will do anything that you are not willing to do yourself. Further, while it is important to confront issues and try to correct problems, showing appreciation for a job well done is significantly more important. Lastly, true leadership involves a respect for the people with whom you work, a respect for their value to the team, and a respect for their time.
What do you miss most about serving in the Administration?
George W. Bush is a man whom I respect and admire implicitly, and as corny as it sounds, I miss him being my boss. This would also be a great place to mention that I met my wife Wendy while working on the campaign! We have been married 11 years and are expecting our second daughter.