Today, the Daily Mail Editorial Board will sit down with three incumbents and a former lawmaker vying to represent the state’s 36th House of Delegates district.
Follow along as we talk with Delegates Nancy Guthrie, Mark Hunt and Danny Wells and former delegate and state senator Larry Rowe.
That wraps up our session.
Rowe says ERT loves the Senate and the Capitol itself. Position of clerk is decided by majority party Senators. As for Manchin, he had a great two terms as Senator and people would welcome him back. Other people would be willing to take his place in the Senate.
Wells says he appreciates Gov. Tomblin at a time when budget is restricted. “That’s been his expertise down through the years.”
Hunt says Gov. Tomblin’s heart is in the Senate. He would be happy serving as Senate clerk or “going home and having a beer or two.”
Wells says Manchin is no dummy. He doesn’t like being in Congress and takes a hands-on approach. On the other hand, he plays an important role in Congress. “That’s going to be interesting to follow.”
Brad asks about rumors Sen. Manchin is interested in running again for governor.
Guthrie: “It’s depressing to think we have a system that’s not as well off as the one they have in St. Albans. That’s troubling.”
Guthrie says there is good closure on the chemical industry aspect of the bill. She senses there are some “significant remaining issues.” Intake issues, ability to shut off intake, better alarm system. She says an alarm system would cost $150,000, but some thought that was unreasonable.
Hunt says the Legislature is not trying to put WV American Water out of business, but there is a need for strong legislation.
Hunt says the only issue that remains is some of the larger towns out of state have reserves. Reserving water is a difficult process, he says, so you have to have a method of flushing the water through so finished water remains in the tanks. The issue that remains is the potential need for reserve water and how much.
Brad asks about changes to SB 373 in the future.
Surber asks why the triple-reference didn’t kill the bill. Wells: “Because we would have been killed.”
Guthrie says Speaker Tim Miley brought in delegates from affected areas and asked how they wanted to handle the legislation. No one thought the bill should be single-referenced.
Rowe: In an ideal situation, lawmakers rely on administrators for information. But in this instance, there was a lack of confidence in the administrators so the Legislature had to get very involved with the details of the bill. “The beauty of the process is it brings in so many viewpoints.”
Brads asks how Rowe goes about educating himself on complicated issues.
Wells says the idea for a separate water intake above the Belle DuPont plant was lobbied against. Hunt notes all Kanawha delegates supported that idea.
Hunt: “We tired to pass a very strong bill, and I think our water is going to be safer.” No need to punish everyone “for Freedom’s sins.”
Hunt says it was a balancing act–they didn’t want to punish good actors like DuPont. Legislators learned things in private meetings that resulted in changes to the bill in order to protect the public.
Guthrie says when Health Committee had SB 373, they wanted to protect and restore the public’s confidence in chemical industry and water company. Once health issues were ironed out, Judiciary Committee noticed a huge list of exemptions. “It may look like a funny process, but I would assure you we were all serious as a heart attack. It was that important.”
Brad McElhinny asks how lawmakers go about making policy in areas where they don’t have much experience.
Wells says Senate’s version of SB 373, the Aboveground Storage Tank bill, was inadequate. House made significant changes, but he was afraid “some uppity Senate people” would get upset with changes, but they were happy with the bill.
Guthrie: “I don’t think people have given up on West Virginia.”
Guthrie says she thinks the federal stimulus money, that’s now been spent, gave state a false sense of financial security. State must decide where to cut budget.
Guthrie says being a lawmaker is hard work and you have to convince the majority of others, no matter the party, that the state is headed in the right direction. If not, policy plans will go “kaput.”
Guthrie says voters in Kanawha vote for the person rather than the party. “They either like you or they don’t. They either think you’re competent or they don’t.”
Wells says tourism is “a bomb ready to explode.” Legislature needs to keep supporting that industry. He says he feels good about what the Legislature has done. It’s only in the past couple of years state has experienced tighter than normal budget constraints.
Wells says he can only relate to the past 10 years he’s served in the Legislature. He says some pretty good things have happened in that time–mine safety legislation, tax cuts, water bill (SB 373).
Rowe: Voters look at individual candidates, most don’t vote a straight ticket. He says there’s always a fear of sudden leadership change.
Hunt: “Democrats are moving this state forward.” Says Dems have done everything they need to do in order to attract business to WV.
Hunt says WV is moving forward. The problem is the stigma–state has a good business climate, AA+ bond rating, phased out food tax and in 2015 business franchise act, lowered corporate net tax, decreased workers’ comp premiums, etc.
Surber asks about general election, noting Democratic control. What can Dems offer voters for the next two years?
Rowe says his interest is policy making, not politics or power. As a freshman, he would be “on the bottom of the totem pole.” He says he still thinks he’d be influential in the committee process.
Hunt says Kanawha delegates have been in the House for many years and serve on major committees. He says it’s important to keep Kanawha delegates in leadership, and that will help the area grow.
Hunt says Legislature is a hierarchy built on seniority–the longer you’re in the body, the farther you advance in leadership. A systemic problem is that House leadership has moved north to Marion, Harrison or Monongalia counties.
Rowe: “Higher education ought to be an economic engine.” Notes growth in technology around Morgantown. Same could happen in Kanawha Valley.
Rowe passionate about tourism and historic preservation. At WV State, board had to cut millions out of budget. Says the same can happen at the state level without being demoralizing or destructive.
Rowe says he hopes to be in the top three. “This is a good delegation.” He wants to be a part of policy making in WV. “This could be a historic election. It could change the way things are in West Virginia.” Reduction and elimination of food tax was Rowe’s idea, as was original Tourism Development Act.
Wells says he tries to be the best. He missed his first vote in 10 years this session because of a family issue. The three incumbents have worked well together and care about the eastern part of the county. “I feel like all three of us are pretty contentious.”
Guthrie says she thinks she’s pretty good–she works hard, pays attention and doesn’t miss votes. She’s involved in the budget process, “especially as it pertains to my district.”
Don Surber says this is an unusual primary–four incumbents running for three seats. Wants to know why candidates are the best for the job.
Guthrie says teachers don’t have enough time with students to spot potential problems before they become bigger. She’d like to see education system “get back to the basics.”
Guthrie says the state has “gotten into the real bad habit” of “trying out the latest fad” when it comes to education rather than sticking with a plan that works.
Guthrie notes education makes up the majority of the state budget and therefore takes up time and attention. “Children spend more time with their teachers and principals then they do with their family doctor, it becomes logical to me you want to pay your teachers better.”
Here’s a story from earlier this year when the House Education Committee debated the legislation: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/News/201403030089
Wells says state must continue to increase teacher salaries. Teachers did see a pay raise this year. Wells says he fears low salaries will drive good educators out of state, a thought echoed many times as the Legislature debated the teacher pay raise bill.
Rowe: “Our schools deserve a lot of credit for the work they do.” Notes statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. Overall, the school system is good but could use some improvements. Future Fund “is a real good idea.”
Rowe says constitution requires a state-funded education, but that doesn’t mean education has to be the same in each classroom. He would like to see more local control but general policy matters and funding are state issues. “We shouldn’t over legislate.”
Despite the amount of money state spends per student, there are still needs. He has great hopes for Future Fund and its ability to fund future educational projects to “give kids the environment to learn.”
Hunt says Legislature tries to address needs each session–school calendar, Future Fund. “That is something when funded will supply a portion of the money to education.” Better teachers, facilities and infrastructure is key.
Kelly Merrit begins the questioning–public education. He wants to know the role of the Legislature in crafting policies.
Nancy Guthrie is running for her fifth term. She says there are many things that can and should be done. Notes “plenty of disappointments and some success” in Legislature. She loves being part of the process.
Danny Wells says it’s discouraging to see candidates not show up to these meetings. He just completed his tenth year in the House, saw some things accomplished that were “very gratifying” to him.
In his time away from the Legislature, Rowe has kept busy with his law practice, writing books and serving on the board at WV State.
Getting started with candidate introductions. Delegate Mark Hunt was first elected in 1994 and says he has a lot he still wants to accomplish. Larry Rowe is from the Eastern part of the county, served in the House and Senate.
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