House of Delegates candidates respond to questions

MORGANTOWN — The candidates for the House of Delegates 5th District fielded questions from The Dominion Post Editorial Board.

Incumbent Democrat Dave Pethtel, of Hundred, faces Republican challenger Phillip Wiley, of New Martinsville.

Pethtel, a retired teacher who still substitutes, said, “I try to study issues on all sides. I talk with my constituents. That helps me to make a better informed decision.”

Wiley is a U.S. Army and West Virginia National Guard veteran who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. He worked 38 years as a union pipefitter and earned an accounting degree.

“We need to balance business with workers,” he said. “We need to balance the oil and gas with the property owners’ rights and make sure that everybody gets treated fairly

On funding PEIA, Pethtel said, “I’m not willing to look at privatizing PEIA. I’m willing to take a good look at the task force report.” While the agency is projecting surpluses this fiscal year and next, Pethtel cautions against spending down its reserves to meet expenses.

Wiley said he always worked in the private sector or the military, but he’s been part of four, mostly benefits-based strikes.

The unpleasant reality, he said, is policy holders will have to face increased costs. Some of that may be offset with wellness or healthy lifestyle discounts. “They can’t just be continually throwing everything on the taxpayer’s back. … It’s a touchy situation and it’s going to be a problem.”

The state has had two months of revenue surpluses and the candidates were asked how they would keep the economy on a positive track.

Wiley talked about the gas industry and keeping jobs here — as pipeline and drilling jobs are transient. Those pipelines and drilling need to serve a petrochemical industry based here, built around the cracker plants in the works and more that may come. We need to find incentives to draw those businesses.

Pethtel observed that the surpluses come from increased severance tax collections — due largely to higher foreign demand for coal — and increased sales and personal income taxes.

There was a plan to invest more money in tourism, he said, that was scrapped to find cash for the pay raise bills. Next session, the Legislature needs to revisit that tourism investment.

“I think we have cut higher education all we can,” he said, “probably more than we should have.” Infrastructure — water, sewer broadband — also needs investment.

Both shared their views on the opioid crisis and medical cannabis.

There’s no easy answer, Pethtel said. “The easy answer is just don’t start.” Last session, the Legislature passed bills to require insurers to cover 180 days of addiction treatment, to have the DHHR research expanding the number of treatment beds and to set harsher penalties for dealers. “If people can be rehabilitated, they should be.”

Wiley said, “Throwing money at it ain’t going to help.” A user needs to hit bottom and needs to want help. Suboxone clinics don’t help because the users trade Suboxone for heroin.

“I may sound unsympathetic,” he said, but he’s seen the problem in his own family. There should be two options for users: jail or rehab, not a Suboxone maintenance clinic. And rehab must be at least six months, not short term. Dealers deserve harsh penalties, especially if someone dies.

Both said medical cannabis can help alleviate many conditions and both support the program. Wiley said Congress needs to make it legal so it can be distributed through pharmacies where strengths and dosages can be better controlled. And patients should be allowed to grow the plants so they can afford to use the product.

Regarding recreational use, Wiley said the topic needs more research, though he could support it, and marijuana is not a gateway drug any more than beer is a gateway to hard liquor. If it’s legalized, users should be able to get licensed to grow a limited number of plants for their own use.

Pethtel said that based on what he knows, he’s not for it for now. He wants to see how the medical program fares and to hear from constituents.

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