The Daily Mail editorial board will be meeting with candidates running in the 36th District House of Delegates race beginning at 11 a.m.
The 36th District is one of two Kanawha County districts formed following the breakup of the seven-member 30th District in last year’s redistricting. Voters in that district will elect three delegates to represent them in the Legislature for the next two years.
The race features Democrats Danny Wells, Nancy Guthrie and Mark Hunt and Republicans Robin Holstein, Steve Sweeney and Stevie Thaxton.
Wells, Guthrie and Hunt currently serve in the House as representatives of the 30th District. Holstein owns a small business and non-profit consulting firm, Sweeney is a certified teacher and owner of L&S Construction, and Thaxton owns of Faith Electrical Services.
The live blog will start running below after 11 a.m.
Well, we’ve hit the limit on our time. Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow we’ll be meeting at 11 a.m. with candidates running in the 37th, 38th and 39th House of Delegates districts.
Wells then went back to clarify on the Voter ID issue, he said that he wasn’t meaning that Republicans didn’t want to block African Americans from voting because they were black, but because they are mostly Democrats. “The emphasis is on the Democrats and not the skin color.”
Holstein: I think we have to have a multi-faceted approach, because it’s part of the bigger problem. The bigger problem is the economy of the state and the nation affecting whether businesses locate here.
I think in the short-run with the continued development of the Marcellus shale, severance taxes from those developing industries can stabilize our roads.
That will help reduce and restructure taxes in the state so they can entice more businesses to cut here. Said tax structure needs to be fair to all businesses. “I tax program that you have to cut out special deals to draw people in is a bad program, and we need to look at that.”
“As we bring all these pieces together and improve the overall structure of the economy in the state, I don’t think we would have to touch the taxes, because I think these things will all balance out.
Sweeney: “I’m not for raising taxes, directly or indirectly. If you start putting a severance tax on a company that lives on a road to keep that road kept up. If you start raising taxes like that, it’s going to hurt you.
“Those are all things that are going to hurt revenue because what business is going to want to open here when they know they’re going to have to start paying – that’s added on to their overhead.
Said Division of Highways pays out millions each year for front-end alignments and potholes.
Between Thaxton’s idea with inmates and taking that repair money out may help in some way.
“I’m not a big fan of throwing severance taxes and indirect taxes out on the people because it will come back to hurt you. You have to take into consideration that the price of oil has driven the price of asphalt up.
Thaxton: “We need to start from scratch and look at where we’re spending money.” Said there could be money saved on crew work. Said too many people are on crews to do simple tasks, he said he usually sees people standing around. “Why is the state road out there picking up trash when South Central is plum full of inmates out there?
“Let’s get them out and working a little bit and make some use of our tax dollars. I’d rather see them out picking up trash than up there sitting on the internet, lifting weights and getting free health care that I don’t even have.”
Said that might also make them less likely to go back after they get out.
Wells: On a committee looking to upgrade Route 60. It’s such a futile thing to go in and meet with the Division of Highways every two months, and they’re all in favor of it…but the answer is always, the money’s not there.
Absolutely we need additional sources. Said he wouldn’t be surprised in more talk of tolls, though he didn’t necessarily agree. “One of these days I fear the gas tax may have to be increased, though I’m not in favor of it, it’s better than driving on potholes everywhere.”
Question: We know highway funding, based on fuel taxes, is not adequate to produce revenue we need due to more efficient vehicles. What do you think, if it came to a new revenue source, what would constituents want?
Thaxton: said he gets carded to buy snuff. Wells: said Civic Center had policy that everyone buying beer there gets carded. “I don’t mind that at all…what’s a big deal about getting the proof of your age out of your pocket.” But said it would put trouble to people when they vote they have to have the same signature in the book as on the ID.
Wells said voting problems that exist now can be stopped by people working polls and running elections, not by Voter ID.
Wells: Said he did not say it was racist. Said it was being driven, “by more important Republicans than Robin.” Said it was not necessary and wouldn’t change anything.
Holstein: “I categorically reject the idea that I’m a racist for supporting a voter ID.” Said that was absolutely not true. “I have said right here that the state should provide this for anyone that did not have the income or did not have the means to get themselves to a place to get an ID. You’re going to have to have it for your social security and medicare, it’s coming soon.”
Wells: Said it was the federal government that mandated that. “It’s my opinion that the voter ID is a calculated effort mainly by Republicans to make it harder for blacks and other people to vote.” Said voter ID wouldn’t have changed problem with absentee problems in Lincoln County. “We basically don’t have a voting problem that would be solved by voter ID.”
Thaxton: Said most people he talks to support it. “What rally aggravates me is, I don’t know if anyone’s tried to renew their driver’s license lately at the DMV” Said his grandmother had to make three trips to renew her driver’s license to get all of the paperwork she needed to prove she was who she is. “It’s just ridiculous that we have to go through all this now.”
Sweeney: Said he agreed with Holstein. Said he had to show his ID to return something to Lowe’s the other day. “So asking for an ID to allow someone to vote is not outlandish.”
Holstein: No, because other things need valid ID. “I believe you have to have some form of ID to sign up for WIC or public programs. I don’t think this is outside, and I believe the number of folks who may not get to a location…we can set up local events for folks in areas. There are ways to make it happen, I think we should have it.
Question: Do you think stronger voter ID laws will be hardship?
Thaxton: Said in construction seeing a decrease in training – in schools it’s all about technology now, they’ve taken woodshop and other classes out. Means kids lack practical skills now. “I think we need to put more focus on the vocational.” Also said teachers are spending their own money for class., with the money we pay in taxes, and lottery, teachers shouldn’t have to spend their own money in classrooms. “We really need to get a grasp on the wasteful spending.”
Wells: Said all in his family graduated college, and it took him a while to realize that may not be for everyone. Said he’s now a big fan of vocational schools. “The vocational schools have a lot to offer. I think we should probably be starting those programs earlier – in junior high and high school. The vocational schools are a very important part of our education system.”
Holstein: Has been reading the report. “The things that amazed me most were the things at the administration level.” One was that Dept of Ed runs Cedar Lakes conference center, said it needs transferred over to Tourism or another agency. She agreed with that. Also said some people may have, for example, a Secretary II position with high school degree, and they get a bachelors and there’s an automatic salary increase though job didn’t change. “There are things like that in the administrative level that have to stop.”
Said if even only half the audit recommendations were implemented it would be a good thing and save money. Said the Dept of Education is paying someone to streamline their response. “If these people in the dept of education cannot craft their response, then they don’t need to be in their position”….said these folks that are paid to take care of it should have had it done sooner, referring to state board, state superintendent. “what I’ve read of the audit, I think is very good, are we going to get all of it, probably not.”
Wells: has been a substitute teacher. “I’m just amazed at the morale of the teachers, it really impressed me…they’re way underpaid.” Yet he said they didn’t complain. Said classes need to be smaller and that there needs to be more emphasis on vocational education.
Sweeney: Read some of the high points. “If nothing comes out of it, that was $750,000 of taxpayers’ money wasted.” Did say he thought many things won’t end up being done. Said part of it was cutting Dept of education staff – “I just don’t see that happening.” (He wasn’t saying he’d oppose that, just that he didn’t think realistically think that would pass.) Said teachers nowadays are just doing what they’re told. Thinks they shouldn’t just focus on teacher-level reforms with audit, said they need to address the administration and bureaucracy of the system.
Wells: “I intend to read the audit before the session starts.”
Question: We’ve been watching the education audit move slowly, not sure what will happen – do you think specific aspects should be implemented or if it needs more study?
Thaxton: Agreed there should be a cap on it. “If we set a cap for disasters and emergencies, that money should stay there for whatever happens. It doesn’t need to be paid for special interests, just let it set there and use it when we need it.”
Should note there is a cap on Rainy Day Fund A that caps it as a percentage of the General Revenue Budget.
Sweeney: “I’ve watched it grow from $400 million – when does it stop? I think there should be a determining cutoff, that says this is enough. There really should be at least a stopping point of that fund growing.”
Holstein: said she has emergency fund of her own to fix things like car problems. “I don’t think it’s a raid if you’re legitimately taking care of emergencies with this Rainy Day Fund.” Said it was essential during floods in prior years. “That’s what you have an emergency fund for…I don’t think that fund is there for Medicaid and Medicare programs, it’s for an emergency project.”
Wells: Experts, including Gov. Tomblin, said that money shouldn’t be raided. “I think the money should stay there.”
Question: Size of Rainy Day Fund has been praised by some, but others think it’s too large and should be spent – what do you think?
Thaxton: Said couldn’t really go too much into Medicaid/Medicare issues, because it wasn’t his specialty. But did say he agreed that if there’s no plan to pay for it, then they shouldn’t do it.
Wells: Said the state does have healthy rainy day reserves. While there are economic concerns in the mining sector, so far as fiscal issues, “Right now, I feel we’re in pretty good shape. I’m proud to say I was part of a Legislature that did that.”
Holstein: “I don’t think we should take it off if we can’t pay for it…we would have to identify in my perspective how we’re going to take this on before we take that step, because once we do it, and once we step into it, you can’t unring that bell and pull people off of it.”
Just to note, the OPEB bill only put cost containment recommendations before PEIA to figure out how to cut costs. Wasn’t really associated with Affordable Care Act.
Sweeney: Said he thought the first phase was put in the OPEB bill. Said he thought it was ironic that it was put in bill dealing with an unfunded liability. Said Medicare premiums will go up 2/3rds by 2014.
Wells: In West Virginia, funding is an aspect with every problem. But I think there should be made every effort to expand that program. Also said one person should be over that program, not under umbrella of DHHR. But said it all comes down to funding. “While the ACA could be improved and tweaked, it certainly is a wonderful start” with more people getting insurance and preexisting conditions not being a factor. “There’s a lot of good things in there for West Virginians.”
New Question: What do you think about expanding Medicaid under Affordable Care Act?
Should note: Guthrie and Hunt declined the invitation to attend today’s meeting. Hunt said he had a scheduling conflict.
Sweeney: Said it would help him, because he ran in the 30th. “I look at it like I came close to getting in. Most would say it looked like I lost.” Said he was political nobody in 2010 and came within 4000 votes.
Now being in a three-member district with his name being out there, hopes it will be a benefit.
Thaxton: Said there’s not much change in the new district, but noted it’s his first time running. “It doesn’t matter if you have one representatives or ten representatives, if the people are not doing their job representing that area, it’s not going to matter how many you have there.”
Holstein: Disagreed, Said these funds can be traded out of district, example was how they were used to build West Side Elementary. “My concern is that if these schools and communities and non-profits are unaware of these dollars, then these delegates are not doing their job in letting them know they are available.”
Said there are many non-profits in eastern Kanawha Valley that could benefit, but said there’s not been much communication.
Wells: Before (Robin’s) area had 7 representing them, now three. “I always argued that 7 was better than 3…by reducing the number I fail to see how that helps.”
Said Delegates met last month to distribute the community grant money as fairly as they could. Each legislator gets a certain allotment to distribute in their district. “When you get seven of us, times the money we get, that’s a considerable amount. But now there’s only going to be three of us and I think that will hurt that area.”
Wells said a lot of people didn’t know about these grants and how they’re available through legislators. He likes using them to give new computers to schools. “The point is with fewer delegates, there’s going to be less money.”
Question: Asking how changes to district will affect the current race?
Robin Holstein: Said it’s been 30 years since someone from the eastern Kanawha County represented them in the Legislature. Got “increasingly disgusted” with behavior of representatives during redistricting, said they were disagreeing and being contentious. “When it gets that bad they’re not representing the people anymore, their caring about keeping their seats and their power.”
Said over $400,000 in community grants were sent around 30th District in a recent year, said only $47,000 spent in eastern Kanawha County. “If you’re going to have a program like that, it needs to be more fair for the people.” Said delegates have said they can represent that part of the county even if they lived in Charleston. Said the best way to serve eastern Kanawha County was to put her name on the line and try to bring balance to the district.
Steve Sweeney: Ran in 2010, but lost. Didn’t know about running again this year until he saw where the state was. “We are still the worst place to start a business and pretty much the last in everything.” Ran this time to try to make a difference in that. Said the state has lost too many mining jobs, and is not doing enough to help that industry on the state level.
Steve Thaxton: Said he was trying to help ordinary people of the valley and state. “I don’t think the state and the Legislature is doing enough to help those people.”
Danny Wells: Former Gazette writer, now seeking 5th term. “I enjoy an opportunity, as small as it may be, to do something for my state and community.” Worked his way up to Judiciary Committee, and thinks his experience benefits him.
Okay, we may have live stream coming up in a little bit. Now giving opportunity to let candidates introduce themselves.
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