Capito, Swint contrast on key issues
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Voters in the middle slice of West Virginia can't say they don't have a choice for Congress.
Incumbent Republican Shelley Moore Capito and her challenger, Democrat Howard Swint, part ways on these issues: the expiration of the Bush tax cut, the continuation of the federal health care act, the effect of federal environmental policies on West Virginia, regulation of the banking industry and whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would make a better president.
Swint, a Charleston commercial real estate broker, is looking to unseat Capito, who is seeking her seventh term in the U.S. House.
Both said Congress needs to act to boost the stagnant national economy and reduce the $16 trillion national debt.
Capito said Washington gridlock has created a lot of uncertainty for job creators, who are leery of hiring new people before knowing what the tax and regulatory environment will be like in coming years.
As a founder of the Congressional Civility Caucus, Capito said she has a record of being able to work across party lines to pass legislation. She said that attitude would be key in moving the country forward.
"We absolutely have got to lay down the arms and get things done," she said.
Swint said Capito has contributed to the partisan gridlock and should be held accountable for it.
"If you're happy with the way things are in Congress, you should send Shelley Moore Capito back to Congress," Swint said.
He also said Capito supported many of President George W. Bush's fiscal policies, which played a large role in increasing the national debt.
"In a strange twist, I believe the Democratic nominee is the most fiscally conservative, good government candidate for the Second Congressional District," Swint said.
While they disagreed on specifics of environmental policy, both candidates agreed that Congress, not the EPA, needs to take the lead in setting national environmental policy.
Capito said issues like cross-state pollution regulations, and caps on other emissions should be under Congressional review.
"We are supposed to legislate this," she said. "These are decisions that are to be made in Congress, not by an administrative cabinet position - that is where I have a problem."
Swint agreed with that point.
"It is Congress's jurisdiction to create that law," he said. "I consider it an overreach when the executive branch makes laws - I'm a Constitutional purist in that point."
But he did say that laws like the Clean Water and Clean Air acts have had a tremendous benefit for the Kanawha Valley. He also supports EPA efforts to reduce mercury and toxic air emissions, and the agency's efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Capito and Swint also agreed that market forces - driven in part by cheap, ample sources of natural gas - have caused the state's coal economy to suffer.
Swint said there still will be long-term demand for coal used to make steel.
"As long as we have a good metallurgical market for coal, we will have a future for the coal industry in West Virginia," he said.
He also said some government-mandated clean air tools, like the installation of emissions scubbers at the John Amos Power Plant, have guaranteed that steam coal for power generation will remain in demand in the future.
But Capito said the harsh regulatory environment is still weighing heavily on the industry. She said she fears that research and development in clean coal technologies may not happen quickly enough to help the industry survive.
She said the public has tired of hearing about job losses, such as the Alpha Natural Resources' announcement of 1,200 worker layoffs last week.
"The people in Clay County are just yelling at me, 'Stop the war on coal,' " she said.
She said the natural gas market, like coal, is cyclical and prices could rise in the future. She said it is important to keep coal as part of an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy to deal with those market cycles.
She also said federal regulators must include the job market impact of regulation in their decision-making process.
"Every time we've talked (in Congress), we've tried to weave a balance between the environment and the economy," Capito said.
Swint said the jobs-versus-environment argument isn't solid.
"If this was all about jobs, we wouldn't have mountaintop removal," he said, arguing that mountaintop removal requires fewer jobs than underground mining.
Swint called mountaintop removal an "environmental crime," and said the practice should be banned.
"I think it's a shame," he said. "I think it's a disgrace and I think the grandeur of our beautiful state - the Mountain State - is being ruined."
But Capito said underground mining is more hazardous.
"I don't think we have to remind each other what happened at the (Upper Big Branch) mine or Sago mine," she said. "Again, you have to try to achieve some kind of balance, and have to say that underground mining is not easy, it's not cheap, it's not always the safest environment and it can be a hazard."
Asked whom they support for president, Capito went with Romney and Swint with Obama.
Capito said "I think Governor Romney knows how to work with the economy and creating jobs."
She added, "On the contrary, I think the president has flown over West Virginia, has flown by West Virginia and as a result does not understand how his policies affect West Virginia."
Swint countered that the budget plan originally conceived by Paul Ryan would hurt West Virginia's most vulnerable citizens. He said Obama's policies would benefit the state in the long run.
"I think at the end of the day, the affordable care act will benefit West Virginians," Swint said. "I believe at the end of the day the environmental regulations that are coming out of the Obama administration, while controversial, are at the end of the day on balance going to benefit West Virginians."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.