A “good contrast of beliefs” is how Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito described the differing views of her and her opponent Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin.
Both candidates for the U.S. Senate joined The Dominion Post’s editorial board via video conferencing for an interview last week.
Capito, the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, was elected to the Senate in 2015. Before that, she was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for four years. During her time in the Senate, Capito said she has focused on issues that affect West Virginians, such as getting money for the opioid crisis and expanding broadband access in the state.
Capito said she voted for President Trump’s tax relief bill to try to bring higher wages and lower taxes to the state and for the CARES Act, which provided economic relief to troubles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swearengin has never held elected office. The daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, Swearengin said she decided to run for office to serve the people of West Virginia — not corporations or lobbyists.
Swearengin said she has raised over $1 million for her campaign from people and has taken no money from PACs or corporations.
The editorial board asked what the candidates thought a COVID-19 relief bill should look like if the pandemic stretches into 2021.
Swearengin said she’d like to see $2,000 a month stimulus payment and $1.5 billion for expanding broadband access in the state. She also wants relief for small businesses and a solution to food deserts.
“This is not economy versus the people,” Swearengin said. “Public health and safety should come first.”
Capito said her first priority would be schools: Expanded options for learning, making sure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and getting more nurses into schools. Capito also expressed concern over the digital divide between those students with broadband access and those without.
The senator said she would like to see expanded telehealth in the state and make sure there is a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to those who need it most first, such as the elderly and front line workers.
Capito also said she’d like to see PPE manufactured in the U.S., particularly in West Virginia, in order for the U.S. to become more self-reliant.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, both candidates agreed his rhetoric regarding COVID-19 could be misleading.
Capito said he sent “mixed-messages” to the public but that he has been a leader. Capito said she encouraged Trump to listen to the experts and she voted for the CARES Act.
Swearengin said Trump spread a lot of misinformation, but that congress and Gov. Jim Justice have also mishandled things. Justice has only spent 2% of the CARES Act money — which is for pandemic relief, not roads, she said. She also said congress should have passed another relief bill before going on recess.
Swearengin said comprehensive broadband was needed in the state and would bring so many possibilities, including attracting new business. She said broadband should be a public utility. The broadband issue is a talking point every election, but little progress has been made, she said.
Capito said she’s worked with both government agencies and private partners through her Capito Connect program to expand broadband since she was elected. She pointed to several grants that will expand broadband to 1,500 homes in Preston County, 3,000 in Harrison County and expand broadband in Upshur, Randolph and Barbour counties with wireless technology.
Capito said Swearengin was right — there wasn’t enough access in the state yet — but that progress has been made and it needs to become a billion dollar project.
West Virginia’s needs
When asked about changing the social safety net, Capito said she would like to look at children’s nutrition. With COVID-19, many kids who relied on school for food now rely on delivered meals. Food banks are busier than ever and need funding.
Capito also said access to mental health care needs to improve.
Swearengin supports Medicare for All (M4A) and a just transition for people who work in the insurance industry — something coal miners never saw. M4A would save the country money, she said.
Swearengin said there’s a big difference between having access to insurance and having access to medical care. Not everyone with insurance can afford to visit a doctor or buy insulin.
Swearengin also advocates for long-term recovery centers on “every corner” to help combat the opioid crisis.
Capito said she does not support M4A because adding the entire country to Medicare would break the system, causing benefits to be cut and become more expensive.
“I think what ‘Medicare for All’ will be is ‘Medicare for None,’ ” Capito said.
One of the biggest increases in health care costs comes from prescription drugs, and the prices need to come down, but it’s difficult because of all the middle men, she said.
Capito also said health care prices should be transparent and surprise billing should be stopped.
“Let people actually shop when they look for their medical care as you do when you go to buy pears at the store or bacon or whatever you’re getting,” Capito said.
The future of energy
Capito said the country needs to support the coal and gas industries. She said she is for renewable energy but until energy storage improves, we need to be realistic. Capito said she was involved in creating a tax credit to reward carbon capture and sequestration and that we need pipelines. The country should be energy independent, she said.
Swearengin said the coal industry has shrunk to just 50,000 jobs nationwide. Swearengin, who said she’s lived in the coal fields her whole life, said coal miners did not have a just transition when corporations left the state after polluting its water and air and pulling the rug out from under coal miners.
“The people in our communities are sick and tired of being abused,” Swearengin said. “These industries have come in our communities, left us bread crumbs, polluted our water, polluted our air, given our children cancer and they have left and pulled the rug out from under hardworking West Virginians.”
She advocated for hydropower, geothermal energy, solar and wind energy. If gas companies want to operate in the state, they need to help the community and not abuse it, Swearengin said.
Swearengin supports the full legalization and decriminalization of marijuana on the federal level. She also said she supports pardons for those convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses.
Swearingen said it is just a matter of time before cannabis is legal at the federal level. This ties into energy production in our state, she said. “If we put hemp on mountaintop removal sites, then we can tap into the agriculture of that.” This includes tapping into the production of plastics from hemp, she added, and cannabis could help to diversify West Virginia’s economy.
Capito said she “will not and cannot” vote to legalize recreational marijuana because she has talked to too many people whose journey through addiction started with pot. “I am not going to stake my state’s economics on a drug.”
She said she would be in favor of federal legislation that removes the penalties for banks accepting money made in the marijuana or industrial hemp industries because a cash-only business is dangerous.