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Overington's opposition heavy for 54th Delegate seat

May 07, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - To win a ninth term as 54th District delegate, Republican John Overington will have to defeat a fellow Republican and two Democrats.

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All three opponents have taken aim at Overington's record on taxes, alcohol, education and roads.

Republican candidate Leon Close and his supporters visited all of the churches in the 54st District Sunday. They distributed fliers attacking Overington's vote to allow another liquor store in Berkeley County and one in Jefferson County.

The fliers said, "Christian Faith calls us to stand against government decisions, which injure others, leads them to unethical behavior, and creates a climate of immorality. ... In the spirit of a Christian disciple, I stand against the establishment of more 'bars' in our area."

Although Overington has stressed the distinction between bars, which are not being added, and liquor stores, Close said they are essentially the same.

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Close, a 67-year-old Martinsburg building contractor, said he wants to unseat Overington because "the north end of Berkeley County is not getting what it should (for) roads, bridges, parks."

Roads need to be paved and the area needs a family park, he said.

Close said he would work to secure more money from the state's School Building Authority, which has funded other Berkeley County school projects.

The controversial W.Va. 9 bypass, as proposed, could mean many houses and a shopping center being torn down. Close wants another way. "My concern is the cost of the acquisition of these properties," he said.

Overington was wrong to support a tax on food and baby food while voting against one on smokeless tobacco, Close said.

Additionally, Close said he would "work to heal the wounds in the Republican Party in Berkeley County." Currently, the north end and the south end are at odds, he said.

Overington said he prides himself on his openness and accessibility.

He vows to return phone calls within 24 hours and maintains an extensive Web site, where he posts pictures of constituents who have received honors at the state capitol. He annually surveys citizens about their views on 12 to 15 current issues.

"I've got about 20,000 people that are my bosses in my district," he said. "I'm listening."

Overington said he discards Close's claim that he has been unable to "shake the money tree" in Charleston.

"I am proud of the quality of life here. It's top-notch," he said.

North Berkeley County was the first part of the district to get full-day kindergarten, he said, and it has a soccer field on land donated by DuPont.

He said he has helped get a new Opequon Creek bridge and a traffic light in Baker Heights, and lobbied successfully for the straightening of Grade Road.

"To people who feel they've gotten the short end, my question to them has been, where have they been?" Overington said.

He said the W.Va. 9 project is still undecided and alternative ideas are being considered.

Overington points to several laws as part of his legislative accomplishments. They include: a guarantee that students can recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, a program to use jail inmates to help county or nonprofit agencies and a provision for police to use wiretaps in drug cases.

A priority for the next session will be to have roll call votes on all legislation, eliminating voice votes, he said.

Responding to criticism, Overington said he won't vote for the tobacco tax if the food tax doesn't decrease equally.

He said another liquor store is OK for Berkeley County because the alcohol will be consumed at home. It would be better to have West Virginia residents buy alcohol in their own state than have them travel to Maryland, he said.

Democratic primary candidate and Martinsburg lawyer Laura Rose, 42, said she doesn't buy Overington's explanations and he lacks "a fundamental honesty in leadership."

Overington should not have voted for two more liquor stores in the Eastern Panhandle after speaking out against additional bars, Rose said. "That's an inconsistency and I'm offended by it."

"I see every day what alcohol does to families," she continued. "I see their tears."

Rose said Overington is "ineffective" and should have pushed to remove the tax on baby food and other essential items. Residents are instead shopping in Maryland, where there is no food tax, she said.

"He cannot point to one bill that he has ever sponsored that has reduced a tax in this state," she said.

Rose accused Overington of being anti-child by opposing collective bargaining for West Virginia's teachers.

"My current delegate does not speak for me," she said.

As for the W.Va. 9 proposal, Rose said she's not convinced the bypass is even necessary and called on Overington to step in and investigate.

Rose said she has been interested in being a legislator since she was young. Her activist roots formed during the Vietnam War, when she was a "patriot" and clashed with anti-war schoolmates, she said.

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