By Sarah Richardson
The Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce hosted a Meet the Candidates event at Greenbrier Valley Theatre this week for area candidates running for House of Delegates and State Senate positions. Candidates were able to answer questions submitted beforehand to the Chamber, and got to explain their platforms.
Democratic candidates attending the event included incumbent State Senator Stephen Baldwin, who is running unopposed for the democratic nomination in the primary election, and House of Delegates candidates Paul Detch and Heather Hill. Delegate candidate Joe Holt was not in attendance.
Republican candidates included senatorial candidates Thomas Perkins, Vince Deeds, and Mike Steadham. House of Delegates candidates participating were incumbent Mike Honaker, Karen McCoy, and Mark Robinson.
After introductions, the first question presented was, “Do you support continued funding for tourism marketing?”
The democratic candidates all answered affirmatively, with Baldwin citing that “you get an $8 return for every $1 spent on tourism.” Detch noted how much money tourists bring in, and Hill said, “We need to continue to advertise and market.”
Republican candidate Steadham said that as a business person he would keep advertising funds consistent and “keep the momentum.” Deeds said tourism “is vital,” and mentioned his endorsement from the State Chamber. Perkins said this topic is important, but warned of “putting all your eggs in one basket,” and added that the state needs to also fix roads and bring in telemarketing. Honaker said it’s important to market tourism as well as our culture and our arts to make visitors want to return to the state. McCoy, a resident of Pocahontas County, noted how important SnowShoe Ski Resort is to the county, and said the taxes generated from tourism are important. On a different note, Robinson said he supports small government, and wants to see how tourism would do “on its own” without funding from the state.
The second question was, “Broadband legislation was vetoed by the Governor. What is the next step for broadband?”
This round, republicans answered first, with Steadham explaining that broadband is “crucial” to the state, and the “broadband issue needs to be settled.” Deeds said that the bill was vetoed due to conflicts with the FCC, but said “we have to have broadband.” He explained the difficulties that smaller communities face, such as Neola, with getting broadband for online school access. Perkins said he’s a “tech guy” and said that WV needs data centers and servers for businesses, which require broadband. Robinson said that with being pro-small government, he likes focusing on a county level rather than a state level. He said that if there is a demand for broadband companies will install access to meet those needs, “that’s how the economy works.” McCoy noted that WV needs better internet, and that it “affects everything you do.” She said she sees students struggling to gain internet access for online schools. Honaker said he has spoken with the Governor about this issue, and said he voted for the broadband bill. He said they are now tasked with “fixing” the bill during the interim sessions.
Baldwin explained that the vetoed bill will be “on the call” next week, and said that the bill contains consumer protections and allows open access for fiber lines. He said he hopes it passes “as-is,” and noted that local solutions are also necessary. Hill said that broadband is “integral” for education and the economy. Detch had a short answer, simply, “Get a democratic governor.”
The third question was, “What changes do you feel are important for our foster care system, and how would you plan to advocate for those changes?”
Democratic candidate Detch answered first in saying “we can’t have the underfunding we have in this state,” and said a “backbreaking” load on workers in DHHR and insufficient funds and training are detrimental. He also mentioned family planning and sex education as factors to “reduce the number of foster kids.” Hill said that she has experience with the therapeutic foster care system and was “shocked” at WV’s foster care system. She said social workers are “overworked, understaffed, underpaid,” and said sex education needs to begin in middle school. Baldwin said this is a “very complicated problem” that has landed the state in “hot water with the feds.” He explained that a bill about the foster system passed the House and Senate, “but there were a couple of people that didn’t want to pay for it.” He said we need a dashboard and changes to the child abuse hotline, especially for calls coming in from medical professionals and law enforcement officials.
Deeds said that the foster care system is “overworked,” and there are not enough foster parents and guardians. “We need to incentivize the foster care system,” he said. “It needs funded better.” Perkins followed by explaining his negative personal history with the foster care system in Greenbrier County, and said we need juvenile justice reform and family court reform. “It needs gutted,” he said. Robinson said he has seven children that he hasn’t seen in five years due to a protective order, and explained that the state is the root of his problem. He added that, “Anytime you’re going to be a foster parent, you’re taking a time bomb into your house because the state is so ready to prosecute everybody for whatever they do.” He followed by saying, “People don’t need to take classes on how to raise kids.” Steadham said we should follow a different, functional system from a European country or another state to fix the foster system “top to bottom.” Honaker said he believes “it’s easier and better to raise strong, healthy, educated children than it is to fix broken adults.” He said “we need to split DHHR in two” because “it’s a behemoth agency with $7.5 billion dollars that lacks agility and responsiveness.” McCoy said her history with the school system shows her some children who get their only meal at school, and that the system needs funding. She is also would like there to be compensation for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Another question asked was, “How will you protect trans youth?”
Democratic candidates voiced support for compassionate care and sensitivity for trans youth, with Hill suggesting unisex bathrooms in schools, and Baldwin sharing that he learned last year that half of all trans youth try to commit suicide due to feeling ostracized. “We must be quick to extend grace instead of judgment,” he said. Detch said, “I don’t think anyone has an answer,” but he believes that everyone has a right to pursue happiness, and wants to gather information from those experiencing these issues as well as information from professionals.
Perkins answered “We don’t need transgender students in elementary schools,” and said that “we shouldn’t be discriminating against our students. But, as far as bathroom legislation goes, boys need to go to the boys room and girls need to go to the girls room. No exceptions.” He then suggested having one “U-shaped” bathroom area for teachers to supervise. Deeds said that his older sister is openly gay, “and she felt the bullying and abuse that comes from being a transgender homosexual. I’ve seen how she’s struggled. It’s affected my point of view.” He said there needs to be an open discussion among everyone in the school system to get to know each other and “eliminate some of these issues.” McCoy was firm in stating, “I do not approve of this, God made one man and one woman. You should remain the sex you were born. If you choose differently, that’s your body your choice. As far as bathrooms, I feel like you should go into the bathroom that you were born as that sex.” Honaker cited his own history with bullying, saying one in four children are bullied. “It was a miserable experience,” he said. “We don’t need to see eye-to-eye to walk hand in hand in this life.” And added that “we are not in the business of discriminating,” and “we need to protect every person.” Steadham said he believes there are plenty of laws on the books that protect children regardless of sex, and that those need to be applied as a “first round of common sense approach to that.” Robinson said that “A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl, Andy Griffith wasn’t dealing with these issues years ago, I just think we need to back up and change some things.”
The last question read, “There have been numerous reports of sexual assaults across grades in public schools. Some incidents are prosecuted and some are not. Please explain the differences and definitions used by Greenbrier County,” but was rephrased to “How can we better protect our students from sexual assault in our schools?”
Republican candidate Deeds began by saying with his work at the prosecuting attorney’s office they deal with these issues frequently. He cited multiple organizations that help deal with this problem, including the Child and Youth Advocacy Center being “vital.” Honaker said that sexual assault and rape crimes are the most under-reported crimes in America, and that removing stigma and shame for men and women who are the victims of such crimes is important. “We have to make an environment in which people can understand that they can talk to somebody and their allegation will be taken seriously.” Robinson said that it’s an issue with culture, and that “you build in the way that you think,” and “America was in the business of Jesus,” but “we have left that.”
A Meet the Candidates event for circuit and county positions will be held on Tuesday, Apr. 26, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Underwood Building at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds.