POINT PLEASANT — The GOP candidate pushing to be the state’s next governor was in Point Pleasant this week, speaking to local officials and voters.
Bill Cole, a Republican, started out his day meeting with Mason County Economic Development Director John Musgrave at Musgrave’s office on Wednesday.
Cole sat down with the Point Pleasant Register to speak about his visit and campaign.
When asked why, specifically, people in Mason County should vote for him, Cole responded: “Our state has, for years and years, gone out of its way to be business-unfriendly. We’ve relied solely on coal and coal severance. We didn’t diversify and so the legislation that I have passed under my leadership as Senate president for the past two years has been mostly — virtually all — directed at making our state a business-friendly state; a state that is conducive to job creation and job creators, and that includes the ones that are already here, as well as those we lure in from out of state. We have to diversify, but rather than talking a good game, I feel like I’m playing a good game. We have definite examples of good things that have happened as a direct result of legislation we’ve passed in the last two years.”
Cole then spoke more specifically about Mason County, starting with the completion of U.S. 35: “Any four-lane highway, especially one that connects major points together, is instantaneous economic development. One thing that is critically important — and certainly is here — is that we develop and take advantage of our agricultural opportunities. People say ‘West Virginia is too hilly, too mountainous’… no, we’re not, there’s plenty of areas that can and should grow in our agriculture areas.”
Cole then spoke about a market for providing schools with locally grown produce as an example.
One of the most talked about pieces of legislation to be passed by the Legislature this year was that which made West Virginia the 26th in the nation to become a right-to-work state. Cole, along with several GOP members of the Legislature who sponsored and voted for the legislation, have heard about it from opponents through the primary and general election seasons. To say those candidates who supported right-to-work have taken heat for it would be an understatement — something Cole didn’t deny.
When asked to explain his position on the controversial legislation, Cole said: “Here’s what the workers (who feel affected) don’t get. This is not pro-union or anti-union, this is pro-worker, this is freedom of choice for a worker to decide that he wants to be affiliated with a union and pay his union dues, or not. No longer can the union say, ‘If you want this job, you will be paying union dues.’ So what does that cause the union to have to do? They’re going to have to earn their keep just exactly like any private club. So the unions are going to have to work harder to deliver for their membership in order to earn those dues … so at the end of the day, a worker simply decides, ‘I don’t want to be affiliated, I don’t want to pay dues, or, I love what my union is doing for me, I want to pay dues.’
“To me, it’s the worker that wins, but we also open the state up to outside economic development opportunities that we’ve never had. At the end of the day, this will play out well and it will play out on behalf of the workers. I don’t care if they want to be in a union or not; makes absolutely no difference (to me). I just want West Virginians working in good-paying jobs. We’re the only state in the nation to ever fall below 50 percent in workforce participation. We have 48 percent of our adult, of age, able-bodied workforce actually working. That’s not a sustainable model. We have to put our West Virginians back to work.”
Cole then talked about providing “hope” to those struggling with drug addition by bringing in available jobs, as well as starting earlier drug prevention education in schools and going after federal dollars to assist with rehabilitation. He talked about retraining displaced workers, such as those who used to work in coal mines, as drug rehabilitation counselors.
Cole said one issue those in recovery face is finding a good-paying job — or any job. He said he has a plan for those in recovery previously convicted of a non-violent felony, to have that felony expunged from their record if they complete a long-term recovery program, find some kind of employment and meet other benchmarks yet to be determined.
As for what is beyond November, Cole said: “I’m a one-term state senator. I’m Governor Cole or I’m Citizen Cole come this November.”
Cole, who also calls himself a businessman, said he rejects the idea of a “career politician,” suggesting his opponent, Jim Justice, a Democrat, would not be a full-time governor by continuing to be involved in his private businesses and meeting other personal obligations.
“We have a budget crisis of monumental proportions now and it’s maybe going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in order to pull that together. West Virginia has full-time problems that require full-time solutions.”
Cole said he has made one campaign promise.
“I will do what needs to be done, no matter how heavy the lift,” he said. “I will do what’s right for West Virginians to move us forward as a state, with total disregard to how it polls or how it forms up for a re-election campaign. Listen, we’re in trouble, we’re in trouble right now.”
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.