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W.Va. congressional candidates take varying tacks

May 06, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The four Democratic candidates vying for a shot at the 2nd District Congressional seat have taken different tacks in a primary fight marked by dissent.

The candidates even disagree on whether they agree on the issues.

They are battling to win a chance at the seat now held by Democrat Bob Wise, who is running for governor.

The primary is Tuesday.

The other contenders for Wise's seat are Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Libertarian John Brown.

State Sen. Martha Yeager Walker, D-Kanawha County, said social services issues are the most important part of the race. She named health care, child care and Social Security as her priorities, and said her opponents have concurred.

Walker said her 10 years as a state legislator, her involvement with national health and human services committees and her years of caring for aging parents give her the edge in dealing with those key issues.

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Secretary of State Ken Hechler, also a Democrat, said his two most important concerns are mountaintop coal mining and campaign finance reform.

He said mountaintop mining has "devastated" West Virginia's environment and should be banned, not just regulated. Next to its people, the state's most valuable resources are "the forest and the mountains and the streams," he said.

Hechler also criticized the use of "soft money," which is donated to political parties instead of candidates. Critics say it is a way of skirting regulations over contributions.

Attorney Jim Humphreys, a Democrat and a former state legislator for 11 years, said he is concentrating on reforming HMOs to let patients "pick their own doctors and decide their own course of treatment."

He is also pushing for safer, more technologically advanced public schools and for affordable higher education so every student can go to college, regardless of wealth.

Beth Taylor, also a Democrat and a real estate company owner and Harrison County Commissioner for 10 years, said she set out during this campaign to trumpet the same causes she did when she ran two years ago: health care, Social Security and Medicare.

Taylor said that in the last several weeks, she has changed her mind on her approach. She now says Humphreys' large campaign fund and a mistaken claim by Walker are key topics.

When Walker first entered the race, her Web site stated she was the only woman in the race. The League of Women Voters copied that statement when it set up its own site.

Taylor is upset that Walker didn't change the statement once Taylor joined the race. She accused Walker of lying when confronted about the statement.

"Issues come and go," Taylor said, "but character counts."

Heather Fidler, Walker's campaign manager, said it was a simple error. Walker's campaign staff updated the Web site when the outdated statement was pointed out, she said.

Walker's campaign staff contacted the League of Women Voters last Sunday when Taylor also complained about its site, Fidler said. That site is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Center for Governmental Studies.

Fidler said Walker apologized.

"It was an oversight and that's it," she said.

All three opponents have lobbed criticism at Humphreys for his heavy spending.

Humphreys said his campaign has taken in close to $3 million, most of it his own money. The other three candidates combined are expected to have raised between one-third and one-half of that amount.

Taylor said Humphreys' ever-present advertising, particularly on television and radio, is "wasteful" and an indication he would spend taxpayers' money recklessly.

Hechler and Walker have also questioned the fairness of Humphreys' multimillion-dollar effort, although Hechler - who is financing much of his own campaign - has vowed to "spend what it takes to win," up to about $300,000.

"Their criticism is that they don't have the resources to do the same thing ...," Humphreys said. "I'm spending my money that I've earned in a legal way."

When the candidates have discussed the issues instead of each other, they frequently have concurred. For example, Hechler said he wants to keep class sizes small and include prescription drugs in health care coverage. Humphreys said he was championing those causes first.

Hechler - who has written six books, one of which became a movie - is calling for an emphasis on "character education," urging teachers to instill values as they cover their curriculum.

He said corporate tax loopholes should be eliminated and federal programs such as Head Start and AmeriCorps should be better supported.

Walker said the federal budget surplus should be used to pay down the nation's debt.

She said West Virginia has a lot going for it, with its low crime rate and small public school classes. The state's fiber optic network should prove attractive to e-commerce businesses, she said.

Taylor questioned Walker's claim of being most qualified to address health care issues. Taylor said that through her work with the National Association of Counties, she helped pass a federal prohibition on unfunded mandates.

Also, Taylor has emphasized that as a Congresswoman she would do something unusual - commute to Washington while living in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Humphreys said he has heard citizens' concerns about the privacy of medical and financial records, and would try to enact legislation to guarantee confidentiality.

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