CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican challenger Bill Maloney went toe-to-toe Tuesday night in the year's first and only televised gubernatorial debate.
Neither man offered many new details about their plans if they should win the Nov. 6 election, but there were a few sharp exchanges that illuminated differences.
Despite protesting the decision, Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson was not invited to the debate, which was hosted by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association.
The sharpest back and forth between Tomblin and Maloney -- a series of short tit-for-tats -- happened during a discussion of a federally funded effort meant to expand West Virginians' access to high-speed Internet.
"This money was wasted," Maloney said, suggesting the effort would not do enough to bring so-called broadband Internet to West Virginians.
"It has not been wasted. Broadband is being installed every single day," Tomblin shot back.
"How many routers have we bought for $2,300 each? That are sitting in shelves? That's not a waste?" Maloney said. He was imprecisely referring to $24 million's worth of high-end routers -- devices that send data along networks -- the state bought at a cost of $22,600 each.
Lawmakers in both political parties have expressed concerns that the routers, designed for use by 500 or more users, were not a wise purchase as they are now being installed in rural areas, or libraries with as little as one computer. They were purchased during the Manchin administration.
"No, it's not a waste," Tomblin said to Maloney. "The important thing that we've got to remember is this state -- we need broadband, we need, you know, to make sure that it's available and it will be available, hopefully by the end of this coming year."
"Now, what kind of speed is this broadband on?" Maloney said.
"Well it's the highest (inaudible) -- we'll be one of the best wired states in the entire country," Tomblin said.
There are certainly some things voters may have to wait until the election to find out.
Tomblin, for instance, remains on the fence about expanding the state's Medicaid program, a decision that would provide government-backed insurance to 130,000 low-income West Virginians. Even though the federal government is supposed to pick up most of the cost, he remains worried about the tens of millions of dollars each year it will eventually cost the state.
Maloney, for his part, gave his clearest indication yet he may not expand Medicaid, a decision that would eliminate a key promise of national health care reform to low-income people.
"No, I don't think that's a good idea right now," Maloney said.
On taxes, Maloney wants to reduce a tax businesses pay on equipment, but he also talked about giving more options to local governments to tax.
During the debate, Tomblin's campaign manager posted on Twitter, "How many times has (Maloney) encouraged cities and counties to raise taxes on every West Virginian?"
Maloney said after the debate that he disagreed he was shifting a tax burden around.
On the 10-month old education audit, Tomblin again said he would have a package of education measures ready for the Legislature to deal with next year, but he did not outline what he would have in them.
Maloney accused the administration of waste because they were hiring consultants to respond to consultants, a reference to the state Board of Education's decision to hire a consultant to help the write a response to the audit, which was done for $750,000 by consultants.
Tomblin said he would do what he could to re-open the Century Aluminum plant in Jackson County. Hope for reopening the plant collapsed Tuesday when the plant's owner said it would need a better deal from the state Public Service Commission on utility rates. The PSC offered the company a complicated decade-long layaway plan last week, but it wasn't enough for a restart.
"This is just another in a long list of convoluted deals we've come up to save our basic industries," Maloney said.
Asked about privatization, Maloney suggested he would look at privatizing the state's water systems and roads.
Tomblin looked back rather than forward and noted the successful effort to privatize the state's workers' compensation system.
After the debate, in an interview, Tomblin noted part of the water system is already privately held but said privatizing roads could be "problematic," especially if the roads end up being controlled and tolled by out-of-state interests.
At the heart of their campaign's, the men are trying to paint different pictures of the state.
"I'm one of those persons who sees the bright side," Tomblin said, arguing the state is poised for success because of a series of bipartisan efforts of which he has been a part.
"We've been poised for so long," Maloney said. "How long are we supposed to hold that pose?"