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Gubernatorial candidates draw contrasts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Bill Maloney, the Republican candidate for governor, easily ticks off West Virginia's problems, as he sees them.

The business climate isn't good, the courts are lacking, the tax code needs to be reformed, the coal industry is over-regulated and West Virginia is home to one of the worst educated populations in the country.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the Democrat incumbent and veteran of the state Senate, wonders just what Maloney plans to do about any of it.

Tomblin narrowly defeated Maloney in last fall's special election for a one-year term. A full four-year term is on the ballot this fall.

Tomblin and Maloney met Tuesday with the Daily Mail editorial board. There, they had an exchange that summarized their 16-month fight to lead the state.

Maloney, who has repeatedly criticized the size of state government, said if he were elected, he would look at things a little differently than Tomblin.

But how?

"I would just be curious which programs you'd be cutting from state government?" asked Tomblin, whose administration is trying to make cuts right now.

Maloney pulled out his campaign's two-page "blueprint for a brighter future."

"I'm not - we have a plan right here, I'll give it to you," Maloney said, sliding the glossy brochure across the table to the governor. "I'm not the one running things right now - you are."

Tomblin didn't move to reach for the brochure. His campaign has dismissed the document as "nothing more than a pollster's political pabulum."

Maloney can be blunt. Talking about doing more to prevent diabetes and the amputations that follow, he said, "We need to educate our population about there are alternatives: You don't need to get your leg cut off."

But when asked for policy specifics, he talks about his business experience and the need for real leadership.

"We need goals and metrics at these agencies," Maloney said. "I don't see any plan and any goal at any agency. I mean that's what managers do, that's what people with businesses do: You have a business plan, you figure out what do you do, what's your goal, what you're measuring yourself against - I don't see any of that."

"Yeah," Tomblin said, "what we're doing is running a responsible government."

And there it was: the choice. Do voters think the state doesn't have a plan and that Maloney will come up with one? Or do voters think Tomblin is responsibly running the state?

Ask Tomblin supporters and they wonder if Maloney, a Morgantown businessman who has never held public office, has any idea what he's doing. "Bill Maloney shows lack of understanding - again," the Tomblin campaign titled a recent press release.

Ask Maloney supporters and they say Maloney has to get under the hood before he can fully grasp - much less fix - the problems, which Maloney said includes everything from "unhealthy habits and lifestyles" to "corruption issues." Maloney's goal is to "bring new leadership to West Virginia with more jobs and less corruption," the campaign said recently.

Tomblin, who started his career in the House of Delegates while he was still in college, has been under the hood for decades, first as a rank-and-file lawmaker, then as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and then as Senate president.

At times, it showed. Maloney said the state Department of Health and Human Resources is "probably one of the biggest agencies we have."

A few moments later, Tomblin made sure to note, "There's no doubt it's our largest state agency."

The two sparred over a series of issues:

 

  • Tomblin said if he's elected to another term he will work on a package of education reforms. (That's 10 months after a $750,000 education audit told the state how to make a number of reforms to save tens of millions of dollars.)
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    "We're just encouraging all the stakeholders to get involved," Tomblin said. "It's something if you're going to change education, you got to have a lot of buy-in from a lot of people to get the legislation changed."

    While he didn't mention it, there has to be some "buy-in" from the House Education Committee, many of whose members have union sympathies and can usually kill or wound reforms that teachers unions oppose.

    Maloney, who has called for immediate reforms to education, said he thinks there are a "lot of special interest groups that are holding our education back."

    Besides education, Tomblin's second-term legislative agenda is expected to include bills to reform the state's Medicaid program, deal with the state's drug abuse problem and try to boost economic development, Tomblin chief of staff Rob Alsop said Tuesday.

     

  • Tomblin is reluctant to make a decision about whether to expand the state's Medicaid program to provide government-funded health benefits to 130,000 low-income West Virginians. He said he needs more information from the federal government, which is picking up most of the tab. Tomblin is afraid the feds will renege on their commitment and the state will end up holding the bag.
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    "We cannot make a decision that is going to break the state of West Virginia," Tomblin said.

    Maloney said the country needs to elect Republican Mitt Romney as president and a Republican-majority U.S. Senate so they can "repeal this stupid thing," a reference to the national health care reform law that encourages states to expand Medicaid.

    He also called the law "unconstitutional," even though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of it. 

    Like Tomblin, Maloney didn't say whether he would expand Medicaid. But Maloney said health care should involve more personal responsibility.

    "The expansion of Medicaid, to me, is creating more dependence," Maloney said.

     

  • Maloney said Tomblin has not done enough to fight environmental regulations that target the coal industry.
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    "We need to fight back - as I said earlier, we have more to lose than anyone else," Maloney said.

    Tomblin blames the downturn in the industry on a combination of market forces and federal regulations.

    Tomblin takes credit for continuing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that former Gov. Joe Manchin started. And, he said, he's sent "many letters" to the EPA but has not received a response.

    Maloney blamed regulations for the industry's woes but also acknowledged market forces - including a drop in demand - were responsible for a fall off in the coal markets.

    Tomblin, who is a native of coal-producing Logan County, said he has won the endorsement of both the United Mine Workers union and the West Virginia Coal Association.

    "I bet if you asked the Coal Association right today if they'd make that endorsement, they wouldn't," Maloney said. "There's a lot of arm-twisting that goes on."

    Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton said Tuesday, "I don't think the facts have changed."

     

  • Maloney called the state's tax code "archaic," but Tomblin said he wasn't sure that was the right term. The tax code "continues to evolve," Tomblin argued, noting the state hadn't had a general tax increase in 17 years.
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    In particular, Maloney wants to eliminate a tax on business equipment and called for a constitutional convention to do so. Tomblin said about 70 percent of that tax revenue goes to the school system, and eliminating the tax would leave the state scrambling to fund education.

    Tomblin said the tax couldn't be eliminated "in a vacuum" given schools' needs.

    Maloney said the tax is "something we need to get rid of."

    Both agreed they would not pick a fight over "prevailing wage," which the state pays to contractors on public projects. Opponents say prevailing wage rates reflect those of union workers and drive up the cost of state projects. But changing the law would set off a political battle that could prevent the state from addressing larger issues, Maloney said.

    Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson and Libertarian Party candidate David Moran are both also running for governor. Neither was invited to Tuesday's editorial board meeting but will be interviewed for a separate story.

    Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryrivard.

     


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