POINT PLEASANT — Tuesday, May 13 is fast approaching, and this week local candidates made an appearance in front of voters to make their case.
In a “meet the candidates” forum sponsored by the Mason County Ministerial Association, Mason County Right to Life and the Mason County Anti-Drug Coalition held at Sacred Heart Church, voters had a chance to hear and question candidates on the May 13 ballot.
Using the flip of a coin, the Democrats were first to speak, followed by the nonpartisan candidates for school board and then Republicans. The moderator was Tom Schauer. Candidates were allotted a specific amount of time to speak and a brief period to answer questions.
Speaking first was U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall (D), who is running for re-election in the 3rd Congressional District. Though he has been in the U.S. Congress for 38 years, this is his first time running for re-election in Mason County. He was first elected in 2012 after the county was moved from the 2nd Congressional District to 3rd Congressional District.
Rahall, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke about how “vital” the completion of U.S. 35 is to Mason County. He said his No. 1 goal was creating jobs and that he was known for being a moderate Democrat and working across party lines to get things done in Washington. He said he was proud of his pro-life record, his support of prayer in schools and his vote to prevent the United States Environmental Protection Agency from revoking previously granted permits. Rahall, who did vote for the Affordable Care Act, said he has since voted for amendments to fix it.
Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley (D), who is running unopposed for re-election, then spoke about his 18th year on the job and the years that preceded it. Handley said he loved his job, though these days there were some tough decisions to be made regarding county finances, which include a $1 million loss in tax revenue, total, in the last two years.
Handley said though no one likes to make cuts, unlike the federal government, the county had to have a balanced budget. He said the unemployment in the area was too high and the commission was meeting this week with the marketing team of the state’s business and industrial development office to figure out a marketing strategy to get developers interested in Mason County.
Bonnie Fruth (D) is running for county and state Democratic executive committees and the executive Democratic committee of the Fourth Senatorial District. Fruth said she’s been on the county committee since 1992, on the state committee for four years and is active in the Mason County Democrat Women’s Club.
Shirley Livingston (D) is running for county Democratic executive committee and is an employee with Mason County Schools. She spoke about some of the responsibilities of those on the committee, as did Agnes Roush (D).
Roush is also running for county Democratic executive committee, where she currently serves and formerly served on county commission and city council. Roush said she’s not a person who wants to sit on the sidelines and wanted to hear what people had to say.
Johnny Roach (D) is running for the Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates 14th District. Roach said as a small business owner, he was prompted to get involved in the political process to bring small businesses a voice in the Legislature.
He said Mason County had the land, river, railway and a “great” workforce for industry and there had to be a way to get people back to work. Roach also said he was a big supporter of education and was endorsed by local educators. He stressed anti-drug education in the schools and pushing to complete U.S. 35 toll-free because, although it would boost the area’s economy to complete it, more importantly, it would save lives.
When asked about whether or not Roach would’ve been a Democrat to stand up to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s recent veto of a bill to ban abortion in the state after 20 weeks, Roach said he was pro-life and he felt someone should always stand up for what they feel is right.
Willie Livingston (D), who is running for county Democratic executive committee in the Cologne District, then spoke. He previously served in this capacity.
After the Democrats spoke, candidates for the nonpartisan school board openings spoke.
First up, incumbent Dale Shobe who spoke about his background in coaching youth sports and helping schools with fundraisers through his cornhole tournaments. He then spoke about the responsibilities of the school board, which include making policy, hiring a superintendent and presenting a balanced budget.
He said the loss in county tax revenue had hurt the whole county and the schools had lost $1.5 million in tax money, but no employees had been “RIF’d” and he felt it was important to keep people working. He spoke about the school board meeting with local business owners and county officials at the vocational school each year to determine what types of classes could benefit both the local economy and students who perhaps weren’t pursuing a college education. Shobe has served eight years on the school board.
Mikey Whalen, another candidate for school board, then spoke about his credentials to serve, saying he had served in every capacity an educator can serve in Mason County (teacher, vice principal, principal, supervisor and superintendent) and now he wanted to serve on the school board. Whalen said though the ballot says the school board positions are “nonpartisan,” he felt they were full of politics and wants to work on ways to remove politics out of the school board.
Whalen is a graduate of Point Pleasant High School, attended William and Mary College and graduated from WVU. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and teaches part-time at Marshall’s Mid-Ohio Valley Center.
Greg Fowler, another incumbent running for re-election for the school board, then spoke. Fowler, who is a native of Mason County and a U.S. Army veteran, was a manager at the former Goodyear plant and has in later years become involved with the youth through the Family Resource Network and programs like Teen Institute and Teen Court.
He said during his first term on the board, one of the biggest lessons he had to learn was what he could and couldn’t do, legally, as a member. Fowler said it was a tough job but he was willing to step up and work for it. He also said he’d like to see the board go school by school to examine what is being done right at each facility and where improvements can be made.
At this point, the Republicans spoke. Up first, State Sen. Evan Jenkins (R), who is running for U.S. Congress in the 3rd Congressional District. Jenkins said he has served 18 years in the Legislature and has an endorsement from West Virginians for Life. He said that day he had spent time in Mason County meeting with the mayor of Point Pleasant, Main Street Point Pleasant and economic development personnel and spent time at Bob’s Market and Greenhouses in Mason — adding, he felt Mason County has “so much potential.”
He said West Virginia needs “change” in Washington, saying it was “broken.” He said the state needs someone to stand up to President Obama and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. He said the government needs to stop “killing coal jobs” and running up debt. He said the Affordable Healthcare Act must be repealed. Jenkins also said he is the board president of Lily’s Place, a new facility to help drug-addicted babies.
State Sen. Mike Hall (R) then spoke. Hall is running unopposed for his seat and touched upon this being his 20th year in the legislature. He also spoke about pushing for completion of U.S. 35 and how the funding is there though no announcement has been made from the governor’s office as of yet. He also said Common Core, which is a national standard, will be looked at this summer by the state Legislature.
Brenda Adkins (R), running for county Republican executive committee, then spoke about being pro-life, as well as a teacher and youth pastor at her church.
Del. Jim Butler (R), of the House of Delegates 14th District, then spoke, saying he originally got involved in local politics when the debate over tolling U.S. 35 to complete it came to a head. Butler said was and is against tolling.
He said that glimpse into the process helped push him to get involved and he felt “we can do things and make things better” in the Legislature. Improvements he’d like to see are lawsuit and tax reforms and a focus on better education to prepare West Virginians to compete in a global economy. Butler serves on the education committee and wrote a bill to allow “West Virginia teachers to teach West Virginian values,” as opposed to the Common Core curriculum. He owns a farm in Gallipolis Ferry and an excavating business.
Del. Scott Cadle (R), of the House of Delegates 13th District, then spoke, saying his first two years in the Legislature were a learning experience and he was ready to fight for things like the completion of U.S. 35 without tolls. He said he and Butler had worked to kill a bill that would’ve allowed electronic tolling of U.S. 35.
An aide for Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R), who is running for the U.S. Senate, also spoke about her commitment to the completion of U.S. 35 and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Tim Gibson (R), candidate for the House of Delegates 13th District, spoke about being from Poca, pursuing and obtaining a law degree, and wanting to put that to use to help people. He spoke about getting U.S 35 completed and criticized Gov. Tomblin on issues like U.S. 35 and the veto of the abortion ban bill mentioned earlier.
Mike Ihle (R), candidate for the House of Delegates 13th District, also spoke. He is the mayor of Ravenswood and being an adoptive son, he is strongly pro-life and said he is NRA endorsed and endorsed by the farm bureau. He is also running for state Republican executive committee fourth senatorial district.
Next, Curtis McConihay (R), candidate for county Republican executive committee, spoke about his background in law enforcement.