CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy likes to keep reminders of his 15 years in public service.
An avid baseball fan, Hardy has a collection of baseball hats from every school in Kanawha County lined up on a shelf. His modest office in a corner of Charleston's Laidley Tower is decorated with photos of Hardy and other county officials, pictures of family and reminders of his days growing up in eastern Kanawha County.
There's a rug on the floor bearing the Kanawha County seal.
"I've been in the game, not on the sidelines," he said of his nearly 10 years of service on the Kanawha County Commission.
Hardy, 51, is running for re-election to the seat, facing Democratic challenger Andy Richardson in the May 11 primary election.
Hardy, who lives in South Hills, works for Allen Guthrie & Thomas PLLC, a Charleston law firm. Over the past 20 years, he has worked for some of the most prestigious firms in West Virginia.
Some people might look at Hardy's law degree and deduce that he's just another lawyer from an affluent Charleston family. They would be wrong.
"I started working evening shift during high school at the Department of Motor Vehicles and worked evening shift my entire senior year in high school," Hardy said.
Mailing license plates from the basement of the DMV building every night "made me appreciate the value of a college education," he said.
Hardy grew up in Pratt, where his parents still live. "I spent my summers sweeping floors at the Glasgow AEP plant," he said. "That's the same place my father worked for 40 years. My mother worked part time at Pratt Elementary as a school cook.
"My parents started emphasizing college to me when I was in the first grade," Hardy said. He started attending classes at nearby West Virginia Tech in 1975, while he was still in high school.
Did Hardy grow up poor?
"I grew up a West Virginian," he said. "We never wanted for anything."
Hardy graduated from East Bank High in 1976 and from Tech, where he studied history, government and accounting, in 1980. He then decided to go to law school.
"I wanted to be an FBI agent or a naval JAG officer, both of which require law school," Hardy said. He went to law school in Knoxville, Tenn., and passed the West Virginia Bar exam on his first try in 1983.
Then disappointment struck. Neither the Navy nor the FBI would take Hardy because of his extreme near-sightedness.