By Sarah Richardson
The Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce hosted a series of virtual forums this week for local candidates to answer questions submitted by the communities they represent. On Wednesday, Oct. 14, State Senate candidates for the 10th Senatorial District met over YouTube to discuss their policies.
The two candidates agreed on a majority of the topics presented at the debate including current concealed carry laws, how to return kids to school amid COVID, police funding, and equal economic development across Greenbrier County.
In opening, Republican candidate Jack Woodrum stated, “I’m asking you to give me the opportunity to fight for West Virginia.” A native to Hinton, he currently resides in Summers County with his wife. He is a licensed real estate salesperson and a pyrotechnic operator. He currently serves as President of the Summers County Commission, and this is the tenth year he has been a member of the commission. He is also the President of the County Commissioner’s Association of West Virginia, and is a member on several boards, including the National Association of Counties Board of Directors. He boasts that under his leadership as a Summers County Commissioner, the county has led West Virginia in new business registrations.
Democratic candidate William “Bill” Laird opened in saying, “An informed citizen is the cornerstone of our democracy,” and listed his previous history serving on the State Senate from 2008 to 2017. He is a lifelong resident of Fayette County, and currently lives in Oak Hill with his wife. He has previously worked with the Department of Corrections, the Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission, and the office of the Attorney General. He served as Fayette County Sheriff for four terms totaling 16 years. He is the former President and CEO of Montgomery General Hospital, and served two terms totaling four years as a member of the House of Delegates.
When asked how they will ensure equal economic development across the county, both candidates said it was “very important,” with Laird stating, “Your level of service and entitlement as a city and a citizen should not be dependant necessarily on where you reside,” and Woodrum agreed, and emphasized on how broadband is necessary to improve infrastructure around the state.
When it comes to the subject of how to draw businesses into the area, Woodrum again emphasized the importance of a comprehensive broadband system for growth, as well as installing new non-motorized trails that entice visitors. However, Laird responded that a well-educated workforce must be the backbone for business growth. While he agrees in the importance of providing internet, by supporting community and technical college training he states that will help meet the “needs and demands of businesses” looking to relocate here.
Both candidates also agree on the current concealed carry laws, which state that qualified persons 21 years of age or older can carry concealed deadly weapons without a license within West Virginia. Laird cited his 16 years of experience as a sheriff, saying he values the strengths of the second amendment. Woodrum seconded the current law, and added that he supports it within the state, but specified that you do need a concealed permit to concealed carry outside of the state.
When it comes to supporting tourism to the state, both candidates agree that is an essential thing to do. Woodrum said, “we need to strongly support tourism,” as well as the displaced hospitality workers that are struggling due to COVID. Laird agreed, saying he “absolutely” supports tourism, adding “that needs to be a slam-dunk answer.” He hopes the tourism industry will have “a ‘V’ shaped recovery” after COVID-19 is under control. Both emphasized the 10th District is a vibrant and beautiful area to live in, and it’s full of potential.
When asked about legislation they will offer to support women, they both focused on equal pay in the workplace, with Laird saying “fundamental fairness” is essential on all levels.
As COVID numbers continue to rise, attending school is a multi-faceted topic that varies county-to-county. When asked how they plan to get kids back in school safely and full-time, Laird said they are “looking for ways to address” this unprecedented situation, stating that the bottom line is “parent-driven decisions.” Woodrum referenced his wife, who is a middle school teacher, and said many teachers are worried about kids getting “left behind” due to virtual learning. Saying if there is science to “back it up,” he wants to figure out how to get kids back in the classroom.
As police funding and reform are in question across the nation, both candidates strongly oppose the defunding of police to form new social programs.
One topic that the candidates had a difference of opinion on was the subject of upholding and protecting LGBTQ rights, and where they stand on the Fairness Act. The Fairness Act is a bill seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the state’s Human Rights Acts and the Fair Housing Act. In recent years, Beckley and Lewisburg have both passed ordinances regarding non-discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Woodrum responded with, “I don’t know that so many of these are local decisions, they are federal decisions. I have a number of friends within [the LGBTQ] community, when I talk to them and ask ‘Where are the problems,’ they are telling me there’s not really any issues. A lot of the things we are seeing, I believe, are driven by political agendas more than our realities on the ground.” He went on to add, “When it comes down to how these issues affect business, I will take a stand on that.”
Laird took a different stance, saying that, “Equality and fairness are fundamental principles that really become part of a person’s core values and beliefs. I very much believe that fundamental fairness, equality, and non-discriminatory treatment as it relates to virtually all aspects of life, such as fair housing, non-discrimination in the workplace, are all issues that need to be property protected. Your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, your values, those are all important to me. I think I stand strong and firm in the protection of fundamental rights of a person’s principles and equality.”