State Senate Candidates Take the Stage
NEW MARTINSVILLE Education, jobs and West Virginia’s drug abuse and budget crises took center stage as the three candidates seeking a 2nd District state Senate seat debated Monday night at West Virginia Northern Community College’s New Martinsville Campus.
Republican Dr. Mike Maroney, Democratic nominee Lisa Zukoff and Libertarian candidate H. John Rogers answered questions about topics ranging from the economy to school reform during the hour-long event before a standing-room crowd of about 100 people. The debate was sponsored by The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, the Wetzel Chronicle and the Tyler Star News, in cooperation with WVNCC.
Maroney, Zukoff and Rogers are seeking the seat held by Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who ran unsuccessfully for governor rather than seek another term in the Senate, where he has served for nearly 20 years.
Among the highlights, moderator J. Michael Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, asked the candidates’ thoughts on the state’s general fund budget, which may be $350 million dollars short this fiscal year. “We ought to get Jim Justice to pay what he owes the state of West Virginia before he becomes governor,” Rogers said. “People want to know why I left the Democratic Party. I left when a billionaire coal man becomes head of the Democratic Party. Is that my Decmoratic Party? That is not the Democratic Party of Kennedy and Roosevelt.”
Maroney noted that the state needs to control spending, increase revenues, or do both.
“We spend too much on government. We have a very big state government that likes to overregulate,” he noted, adding that the state needs more tax revenue. “That doesn’t mean raise taxes, but we have 48 percent of the workforce working that is eligible. If you have more people working, you would have more taxes.”
Zukoff said that the state has displayed some fiscal prudence.
“Difficult choices need to be made. Restructuring government in such a time may be a way. … We all want bills to be paid, but we also like to drink clean water and ride on roads without potholes and send children to school with qualified teachers,” she said.
On the subject of drug abuse, Rogers noted his and his family’s struggles with the issue. He said he has used heroin, among other drugs, but has been sober since 1982. Rogers also noted that “we are trying to treat a medical problem with legal means.”
“A generation may have to perish,” he said.
Maroney said more treatment facilities need to be available. He said the success rate is low when individuals enter rehab, but “the ones that get saved, generally speaking, are productive members of society.”
Zukoff said the state needs to “go after doctors and the big pharmaceutical companies that prescribe these opioids.”
“They continue to pour drugs in our state and continue to prescribe them, getting residents hooked on drugs. That led to a heroin epidemic when they couldn’t get the pills,” she said.
The candidates were asked as to what the Legislature and governor can do that would be most effective in bringing new jobs to West Virginia.
Zukoff noted that the state needs to retrain its workforce and focus on bringing high-speed internet to the entire state.
“We have folks out of work now, and we need to look to the energy sector as well. Those new jobs will be available,” she noted, saying the oil and gas industry will bring jobs, but “folks aren’t trained for those. I think it is imperative that we get them trained.”
Rogers said that the oil and gas companies need to pay more.
“They are going to leave us with a destroyed infrastructure. They aren’t bringing jobs. They are taking them from us,” he said.
Maroney noted that the state needs a better business climate and better legal climate, along with better infrastructure and broadband.
“If you have a nice business and legal climate and good infrastructure, jobs will come. We have coal and gas. Spinoffs will come from the cracker plant, but only if the environment is right,” he said.
The candidates were asked what the Legislature can do to improve the state’s public schools.
“We have a teaching crisis in West Virginia. We have unfilled jobs, and we’ve had to lower educational standards,” Zukoff said. “We have teachers that aren’t certified in the classroom, and with a state that ranks right at the bottom of public education, I think it is critical that we start paying teachers more, so we can keep the best and brightest.”
Rogers noted that “if anything, there is far too much meddling by the Legislature in the system of education.”
Maroney said the state needs to repeal Common Core standards and find a way to pay teachers more. West Virginia is near the bottom in education, as far as results go, “but we are near the top with spending,” he said.
“That is a bad combination,” he said. “Too much money is spent on bureaucracy.”
Maroney added, “We need to repeal Common Core. It doesn’t work. It is a one-size-fits-all mentality, and it is another example of government regulation Teachers need freedom to teach.”
The final question asked each candidate to say something nice about their opponents.
Maroney said he didn’t know either one of his opponents but, “I respect both of them very much so for having the courage to run for public office.”
Zukoff agreed with Maroney in that she did not know either of her opponents, but she said through mutual friends with Maroney, she knows he is very involved in the community and youth sports.
“We also need good doctors in West Virginia, and I thank him for staying in-state.”
Of Rogers, Zukoff said, “I would say he has made this race interesting, and I thank him for that.”
Of his opponents, Rogers said, “They are fine. I just don’t think you ought to vote for them.”