Candidates for 35th District focus on schools
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Candidates running in the 35th District House of Delegates race all say improving the state's education system will bolster the economy.
Eight candidates - four Democrats and four Republicans - are each vying for one of the four seats in the new 35th.
The district, one of two created when the Legislature broke up the seven-member 30th District in 2011, covers urban areas of Kanawha County, including South Hills, South Charleston, Dunbar and St. Albans.
Current 30th District Democratic Delegates Bonnie Brown, Barbara "Bobbie" Hatfield and Doug Skaff, and Republican Delegate Eric Nelson are running for re-election in the new district.
Also running are Democrat and former state Tax Commissioner Christopher Morris and Republicans Suzette Raines, Fred Joseph and J.B. McCuskey.
Raines owns a Charleston public relations and marketing firm, McCuskey is an energy litigation attorney at Steptoe & Johnson and Joseph is a building manager with the Upper Kanawha Valley Enterprise Community.
Brown and Morris were not able to attend. Joseph and McCuskey were scheduled to attend but did not because of confusion about the meeting time; they were interviewed by phone later in the day.
All candidates agreed that lawmakers should work to boost the state's economy. They also said to do that, the state needs to have a strong education system.
Hatfield, a registered nurse, said she did not like hearing that natural gas firms are bringing in out-of-state workers because they can't find local workers with adequate training. She advocated stronger use of vocational training programs to help improve workers' skills.
"We have a good workforce here; we need to train them and we need innovative ideas," Hatfield said.
Nelson, who had two children graduate from local public schools, said the state needs to do more to keep its young, educated citizens here after graduation.
"We must provide a better environment for our kids," Nelson said. "We need to have an environment that brings our young kids back and into our state."
Skaff, who owns a building material distribution company, said lawmakers should use tax incentives to encourage college graduates to stay or move into the state.
He tried to get a bill passed this year that would have done that, but it didn't make it through the state Senate. He said he would keep up the fight if re-elected.
"I really feel we have a brain drain in this state, and I've fought to keep those people here," Skaff said.
Raines said improving education was the first step in improving the quality of life for all West Virginians. She said education officials have dragged their feet on the recent audit of the state's education system and the public wants someone to step up and do something.
"I think it's time we finally take action," she said. "Let's actually do something on those recommendations."
Hatfield said many lawmakers, including her, had not been able to read the education audit yet. She said she intended to do so before the next legislative session.
Others said they think the solutions outlined in the audit need to be implemented as soon as possible. They also favored returning more local control to school systems and eliminating bureaucracy at the state level.
All four agreed with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's request for 7.5 percent budget cuts from many state agencies in the fiscal year that starts next July 1 to divert funding to the state's growing Medicaid program.
Hatfield, the vice-chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, also said it's time lawmakers consider breaking up the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"We need to break up that agency," she said. "One person can't run those departments."
While a total breakup of all the different agencies may not happen quickly, Hatfield said lawmakers should at least make the Bureau of Medical Services, which administers the Medicaid program, a stand-alone agency to help streamline its costs.
Joseph and McCuskey agreed that reforming the state's education system was vital to improving the state's economy.
Joseph said the Legislature fails to enact reforms because it is made up of many career politicians beholden to special interests, like teachers unions.
"We know the solutions to the problems, but they don't have the will to implement them because they want to be career politicians," he said. "They want to be popular and they want to stay in their positions."
He said that is one reason why he favors term limits for state lawmakers.
McCuskey said he wants to help create an environment where people can move back to the state, work at well-paying jobs and raise families.
He said the state should restructure its tax approach to make sure businesses don't just locate manufacturing locations but also relocate their entire headquarters in this state. That would create several types of jobs, besides basic manufacturing ones.
"We have been a community that has probably been narrow as opposed to broad in the kind of jobs you can get," McCuskey said. "You have to find ways to create jobs in different sectors."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.