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Candidates address concerns at forum

By Staff | Apr 21, 2011

INWOOD – All but one Democratic candidate in May’s primary gubernatorial election were in attendance at Friday night’s candidate forum at Musselman High School in Inwood, and one of the two Mountain Party candidates participated as well.

Participating Democratic candidates were acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Jeffrey V. Kessler, acting president of the West Virginia Senate; John Perdue, state treasurer; Natalie Tennant, Secretary of State; and Rick Thompson, speaker of the House of Delegates. Candidate Arne Moltis was not present on the Democratic side.

Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson also participated in the forum, while fellow Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber was not present.

The state’s education system, locality pay for teachers and the availability of an educated and capable workforce to help attract businesses were key issues during the forum.

“We spend about 60 or 65 percent or our general revenue budget on education every year. … that particularly is difficult when (children) leave our state. That’s a terrible investment for us to lose year after year after year,” Kessler said. “When you look at locality pay, and the cost of living in this area, it has to be addressed.”

Kessler added that it is “crazy” for the state to educate students in the public school and university system in West Virginia, and in turn lose the students because they can’t make a living here.

Perdue stressed that the state needs to develop better technical and vocational training programs and schools to offer a more competitive workforce in the future.

“We have to work with small businesses in this state. Ninety percent of this state is small businesses and we need to work with them to keep our brightest and best here in West Virginia, and determine what those jobs are,” Perdue said. “We have to work more with community colleges in this state to train our workforce for the future jobs.”

Accessibility to the state government in Charleston for Eastern Panhandle residents, and for citizens from across the state, was another issue during Friday’s forum.

“I don’t have to run for governor to be accessible and to use technology to connect all of the state of West Virginia, and I especially know the challenges of the folks in the Eastern Panhandle,” Tennant said. “That’s why you see … open and engaged government from the secretary of state’s office, innovation, accountability and transparency. … It is so important that we have the interaction and use those resources that we have. What that leads to also is cost efficiency for folks … but also cost efficiency for the state.”

Environmental issues, ranging from threats to the environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power in regard to state industry, also played an important part in the forum.

“We are in complete denial of how we are poisoning ourselves, our communities and our children, as well as destroying our heritage,” Johnson said, referring to mountaintop removal mining and other concerns. “The real issue is water because you’re aborting water, life, at its source when you remove a mountain, when you do the hydrofracking. … We don’t have enough inspectors to inspect these things, and we’re also not even doing anything as far as legislation or regulation. … We need a moratorium on drilling permitting until we know the effects.”

Thompson also hit on the Marcellus Shale issue during his comments about the environment in West Virginia.

“It needs to be dealt with in a special (legislative) session. There’s too much at stake, there’s too many different areas affected,” Thompson said. “I would call a special session to pass regulations dealing with the Marcellus Shale that creates the balance between the industry and the environment. We all expect and deserve clean drinking water. … It’s too important to do wrong. We’ll get it right, we’ll find that balance and that’ll make it better for working families in West Virginia.”

Economic growth and job creation in the Eastern Panhandle, as well as across the state, were other topics of interest during the forum.

Tomblin cited some of the recent and planned construction projects in the Eastern Panhandle as examples of the state helping to create jobs in the area.

“The state contributed very much as far as the recent completion of Route 9, which created construction jobs in the Eastern Panhandle. … There’s money available for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College for a new building that’s coming up very soon,” Tomblin said. “We do have a lot of things going on right now that (are) creating jobs. … Things are going well as far as the construction projects we have going on in the Eastern Panhandle.”

The primary election will be held May 14.

– Staff writer Matt Armstrong can be reached at 304-725-6581, or marmstrong@journal-news.net