MORGANTOWN — The candidates for the 53rd House of Delegates District seat fielded questions from The Dominion Post Editorial Board.
Incumbent Republican Buck Jennings faces Democrat challenger Cory Chase in November.
Jennings, of Thornton, a contractor by trade, volunteers in his spare time with the volunteer fire department, the ambulance squad and as a paramedic.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to run for office is because we’re losing that volunteerism that we used to have,” he said. He wants to help revive that spirit.
The public schools are the foundation for a strong state and economy, he said, and unfortunately, recent statistics show that only 26 percent of fourth graders read at the fourth-grade level. Teachers need to be able to make their own decisions.
To get more money into the state budget, he said, we need to grow the economy and grow personal incomes. He would rather see production of our resources — wood and natural gas for example — here as finished products instead of exporting raw materials and buying them back as furniture and plastics.
Chase, of Dry Fork, owns a massage therapy business in Thomas.
“I’m launching into this venture to be an advocate for citizens,” he said. “We have a lot of natural resources. What we don’t seem to have is the backbone to properly tax them to provide for our communities.”
Each candidate listed his top three priorities for the 2019 session.
Chase wants to fully fund PEIA. The best way is with tax hikes. He wants to see the corporate net income tax rate restored back to 9 percent from its current 6.5 percent. The cut, enacted several years ago to draw new business, has only made corporations richer, he said; it hasn’t trickled down.
Chase also wants to promote industrial hemp farming and manufacturing. “I think that has a lot of downstream industries that can really boost the economy and create jobs.”
And co-opting a slogan from the current U.S. president, he wants to drain the swamp and promote government accountability, where elected officials represent the people, not just big business.
Jennings wants to promote EMS funding and recruitment. Stations across the state are closing, he said. And the majority of EMS workers are now over 50. “We need to get the young people in.”
He wants to promote education and improve the state’s infrastructure. “We’ve got to get our roads fixed. We’ve got to get water and sewer. We’ve got to make a place people want to come to.”
Tax hikes aren’t an answer, he said. Our low rates are one source of appeal to outside residents and businesses.
Circling back to fixing PEIA, Jennings said a higher severance tax isn’t the answer. The tax here is already higher than Pennsylvania’s and Ohio’s, and drillers will go to those states. Instead, we need to promote growth by fixing our infrastructure and promoting industry.
High hospital charges are one component of medical cost inflation, he said, and we need to encourage competition.
Chase sticks by his severance tax guns. “I know it’s a volatile system,” so it doesn’t always generate the revenue that it needs to, he said. But those costs can be written off against federal taxes.
We need a single-payer healthcare Medicare for all systems and we need to promote industrial hemp, he said.
On the opioid crisis, Chase favors alternate sentencing for nonviolent offenses — “care, not cuffs.”
Legalize and tax medical marijuana, he said. “It’s a gateway drug out of addiction. It’s a gateway drug toward getting off these opioids.” And educate children on what drugs are and how they affect tour health.
Jennings favors starting educating kids as early as kindergarten on staying away from drugs. “Your potential can never be reached if you’re on these drugs.”
Adequate treatment is important but good jobs will be a motivator to stay clean. “We have got to get to where they have hope.”
He opposes medical cannabis. “This kills me, that we want to introduce another mind-altering drug to the people.” He contends that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs. “If I’m in the legislature, I will never vote for legalizing marijuana.”
Gov. Jim Justice created a Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education but has fended off requests to immediately put community and technical colleges at the table.
Asked if those schools should have a seat now, both said yes.
Jennings said welders can make more than $200,000 a year and equipment operators can make $100,000. Those things can be taught in trade schools. “I think we should emphasize that. Not everybody’s made to go to college.” Some kids come out of college saddled with debt and with four-year degrees in fields with no jobs.
Chase said many developed nations provide debt-free college. “People want to be fulfilled. … They want to have purpose.” We need job and college placement programs as early as seventh grade to help kids explore career options.
Legislative districts will be redrawn after the 2020 census. Based on a bill passed last session, the House will have 100 single-member districts.
Both chambers looked last session at creating an independent redistricting commission. Senate Judiciary briefly explored and abandoned one proposal that posed logistic challenges. A House Judiciary subcommittee spent several days crafting a more detailed bill, only to gut and replace it with 19 guidelines for the legislative redistricting committees to follow. That bill died on second reading.
Both candidates said they favor an independent commission to take out the politics and avoid gerrymandering.
Jennings said districts should represent the people rather than their politics.
Chase said districts should follow county lines as closely as possible. He favors proportional representation, where parties win seats in proportion to the number of votes they gain.
Both acknowledged their district is gerrymandered, leaving out the largest towns in their respective counties. And both acknowledged that the Democrats have controlled redistricting for decades and are responsible for the gerrymandering. But Chase observed, “They weren’t progressive Democrats. They were corporate Democrats. There’s a difference, and there’s a new wave coming.”
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