PRINCETON — Five area candidates are vying for three seats in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Incumbent Republicans John Shott, Joe Ellington, and Marty Gearhart are being challenged by Democrat Carol Bailey and West Virginia Mountain Party candidate, Karen White.
The Times reached out to each candidate to explore their ideas regarding policies affecting southern West Virginia. The topics were narrow and were purposed as such due to their importance or impact to the area. Southern West Virginia is indelibly tied to the coal and rail industries and with the recent setbacks in both, the candidates talked about their views and presented some ideas for improvement.
Shott has served in the House for a total of four years and gave his perspective.
“Because of the downturn in the coal industry, it has had a domino effect on rail but could be a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“The rail system we have in place and the highway system we have here can be diversified to support industries such as natural gas in northern West Virginia,” he added.
Shott says using rail and trucks along with establishing a depot in this area can move more materiel to the gas fields at a lower expense while saving and creating jobs.
“We can breathe new life into the system by using rail to bring the material here and take advantage of our highway access to the north by trucking it the rest of the way,” he said.
Bailey touched on the road system as well. She talked about the I-74 corridor project that has been at a standstill for some time.
“I want the so-called road to nowhere to become a road to better business, be it retail, industry, or tourism,” she said.
Bailey also echoed Shott’s thoughts on maximizing the rail and other road systems in West Virginia. Ellington also felt a strong infrastructure was critical to economic development.
“Our economy is in need of three critical elements to grow; a manufacturing base, infrastructure growth (through effective fiscal management), and a regulatory environment that is streamlined and fair to not only individual, but business as well,”
In regard to fiscal management of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and public works, Ellington says there must be a balance between salary and benefits that will not adversely affect service.
“It is important people who take care of our roads, bridges, and water systems make a good living but we also must ensure we find an effective balance that still affords West Virginians an infrastructure that can promote and sustain growth,” he said.
Water was a topic Mountain Party candidate White also talked about.
“If our water is not protected, we would have a tough time finding a healthy work force when we experience growth economically,” she said.
White cited the recent chemical spill in Charleston as an example.
“The lack of clean water for thousands of residents closed businesses and schools and the economy suffered as a result,” she said.
If elected, White would push for more accountability and self-inspection by companies who handle hazardous materials near water sources.
“We have to ensure they are performing inspections on their facilities and impose stiffer penalties on those who ‘pencil-whip’ the tasks instead of actually performing them,” she said.
“Pencil whipping” is term used when a checklist is completed when the required function is never completed.
Gearhart says a way to bring more industry to the area begins with West Virginia being competitive with other states.
“We need the government to get out of the way of business. Taxes are a reality but some, such as income and inventory taxes are higher here which tend to draw businesses across the border,” he said.
Like Ellington, Gearhart says there needs to also be a fair playing field between business and individuals in the legal sense.
“In our system, when a business is sued, the only winners tend to be the trial lawyers,” he said. “We need to streamline the system so a business will not go under and individuals who are found to have been wronged are fairly compensated,” added Ellington.
The effects of addiction was something the candidates also expressed an interest in addressing. The need for more options for drug courts was a common topic as well as providing more treatment and education for addicts.
Ellington is a proponent of a more common sense approach if testing those on public assistance were to become a reality.
“We need to focus on testing those who have exhibited behavior that would place them in a higher suspicion category such as mothers of addicted newborns,” he said.
Ellington says if testing can free up two-hundred-and-thirty thousand dollars toward treatment and/or education when one less newborn is not in need of detox at birth.
“We also need to get away from blanketing purchasers of cold medicine. It is the offenders we need to focus on,” he said.
Bailey agrees on more options in drug court along with dealing with non-violent drug offenders.
“If we can stop incarcerating non-violent defendants by giving the courts more options in treatment and such, it can have an effect on the crime rate we are dealing with as well,” she said.
Bailey also says there is a need to provide positive activities that interest kids.
“When you surround kids with positive role models and peers, that can have a direct influence on their path in life which in turn can affect the crime rate,” she said.
Gearhart says the drug problem is an ideal topic both parties in the West Virginia House can easily work together on.
“I believe we can bring this issue under better control if we work together to find the needed funding to get it done. The drug problem is an ideal vehicle to foster more cooperation between parties,” he said.
Shott gave some perspective to the business of the House of Delegates.
“Overall, a high percentage of bills pass without much difficulty, but there are always fundamental differences that will always exist,” he said.
Ellington says the possibility of a GOP majority has become more of a reality over the past few years and understands the impact such a majority can have.
“Whether it (the majority) happens, we delegates as a whole need to take a common sense approach to what we do and understand the consequences of what we do,” he said.
Gearhart says a shift in the house could bring new life to the chamber.
“I think a sing in the majority would rid the arrogance of eight decades of single party rule. No matter the party, when someone holds sway that long, it kills debate and consensus,” he said.
Bailey agrees there is a need for dialogue across the aisle.
“We need to be open to anyone from either party who bring good ideas to the table especially when it comes to our economic and educational systems.”
White would also be willing to hear ideas about changes that can bring about growth and level the scale for southern West Virginia.
“Although my main concern is environmental, I am willing to find a common sense approach to something such as eliminating the tolls or finding ways to diversify our economy,” she said.
All in all, the candidates share a calling to service and although their approaches and affiliations may be different, they all understand the economic and social obstacles facing our area and express a willingness to work with any and all on common sense solutions.
— Contact Scott Noble at email@example.com