PRINCETON — The three 27th House District delegates from Mercer County are making plans to tackle many issues when the 2021 legislative session opens in January.
Incumbent Del. Dr. Joe Ellington, former Del. Marty Gearheart and political newcomer Doug Smith, all Republicans, swept all three seats last week and will head into next year’s session with a “supermajority” of Republicans in both the House and Senate.
That means they will have enough votes to pass legislation regardless of any Democratic opposition. If unofficial tallies hold, the Senate GOP will have a 23-11 edge and the House GOP count will be 76-24, both above the two-thirds threshold.
Newcomer Doug Smith of Princeton, a Kansas native who is retired from the military after 34 years of service and moved to West Virginia 16 years ago, said he is not a single-issue candidate.
“I have no personal agendas, and I believe in representing the people over my own desires,” he said. “I want to be involved in any legislative action that will improve the business climate in West Virginia to ensure we have stable, quality jobs, where West Virginia is a first choice of employers to come and grow business and a place that people want to come to.”
Smith said several issues need to be addressed:
• Tax reform – more specifics will come, however, “one of the first issues should be the repeal of the BAIT. (Business and Inventory Tax).”
On an issue that concerns counties, Smith said he wants “relief for counties’ high cost of keeping inmates in regional jails. This is causally related to finding solutions to the opioid crisis.”
He also wants to establish a Southern West Virginia Veterans Nursing home in Beckley.
Smith said he wants to stop “out of cycle” special levies and bond elections “to reduce financial burden of taxpayers and require them to be conducted during normal primary or general elections.”
He also want to address solutions for the sales tax differentials in counties, like Mercer, that border other states.
Smith said he will support “any legislation that ensures our Second Amendment rights are not infringed.”
He also hopes to see movement on bills that have previously stalled in committee’s to be passed.
“My final thoughts on having a supermajority is a caution for ourselves,” he said. “Supermajorities historically work well when special interests use their influence to pass legislation, however, they work poorly when that influence is used to block legislation. As a supermajority we must avoid the ‘trap’ of passing bad laws (legislative priorities that do not match what voters want).”
Gearheart is a Republican from Bluefield and owns Gearheart Enterprises. He served as a delegate in the District 24 House seat from 2010 until 2013 and then in the 27th District from 2013 until 2018, when he did not seek reelection because he ran for the Republican nomination for the 3rd District House of Representatives seat.
“I am honored to be able to return to the legislature,” he said. “I think I have something to add that will benefit our state and area and look forward to getting to work.”
Gearheart listed several issues he is going to work on, and the “big things” include:
• Redistricting, (especially delegate districts that will all be single member districts).
• Budget, balancing changing revenue and spending.
• Spending of federal money from pandemic (stimulus packages).
• Transparency of road spending.
• Education reform.
Gearheart thinks having a supermajority will help move the state forward.
“With large majorities for Republicans there is an opportunity to accomplish what Republicans have shouted from the campaign trail for years to create more freedom and opportunity,” he said. “As long as Republicans act like Republicans, our future is bright.”
Ellington, an OB-GYN physician at Princeton Community Hospital, was a delegate for the 24th House District from 2011 to 2013 and has held the 27th District seat since 2013.
Ellington, who is chair of the House Education Committee, also sees potential to use the supermajorities to move legislation that will benefit the state but may require changing the Constitution.
“A supermajority gives us the opportunity now to entertain potential constitutional changes along with tax reform,” he said. “In addition, my committee makeup ... gives me the opportunity to move legislation through committee to the House floor much easier.”
One if his priorities is redistricting.
“Redistricting within the next year will be important since we move to 100 single member districts in the House,” he said.
Broadband is also on his agenda.
“Making sure we expand broadband internet coverage throughout the state, particularly in the southern region of the state, will help do several things,” he said.
They include “improving the opportunity to compete/ recruit industry and jobs to West Virginia … utilizing technology for the benefit of our education system both in K-12 and higher education … improve healthcare access through telemedicine.”
As chair of the House Education Committee, he is ready to go to work.
“I plan to work with my committee members before session begins to see what priorities they have from their constituents regarding K-12 and higher Ed needs, particularly after all the interruptions and accommodations as a result of the COVID pandemic,” he said.
The state’s 2021 legislative session opens on Jan. 13.
— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline. com