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Mays challenges two-term senator Unger

October 29, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Only three West Virginia state senators from Berkeley County have served in the Legislature for more than eight years, records show.

Republican Jerry Mays, incumbent John Unger's opponent in the 16th Senatorial District race in the Nov. 7 general election, hopes to keep it that way.

"I am the candidate that is most representative of the voters in the district," said Mays, a 64-year-old federal government retiree who touted his active involvement in numerous community initiatives, as well as his family life, in a recent interview.

"I know what it's like to put kids in school - the anxiety on the first day of kindergarten," said Mays, of 211 Sudley Lane in Martinsburg. "My opponent can't say that."

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In seeking election to a third four-year term, Unger, 37, noted his own heritage as a lifelong resident of Berkeley County.

"This is where my family lives," said Unger, of 1022 Williamsport Pike in Martinsburg. "This community is my community. Who I am is because of this community."

Unger believes district residents in Berkeley and Jefferson counties stand to benefit from his increasing seniority in the state Senate.

"We really have an opportunity for the next four years to build a better, brighter tomorrow for our residents here," said Unger, who was appointed chair of the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in 2005.

Touting efforts to get W.Va. 9 widened, a new Division of Motor Vehicles office for Jefferson County and locality pay for at least some local state workers, Unger said the committee appointment is "vitally important" for the Eastern Panhandle's future economic success.

In order to bring better paying jobs to the Eastern Panhandle, Unger said he has been working with Allegheny Power to improve the reliability of electricity service, and also is pushing for expansion of high-speed broadband capabilities in the region, an area he believes already is a "perfect" geographic location for companies.

"Once we upgrade our infrastructure, the high-tech jobs will move here," Unger said.

Mays said he will continue to push for the completion of a project under way to widen W.Va. 9, which he said would improve economic development in Charles Town and Jefferson County.

If elected, Mays said he would push for elimination of the business franchise tax and lowering of the corporate income tax as part of comprehensive tax reforms.

"We've got to go to Charleston and change the way we tax our small businesses," Mays said.

Mays asserted that U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's efforts to bring federal jobs to the state have generated little private sector development, which he said was a product of the state's business climate.

"Clearly, there's a problem," Mays said.

In order to address the teacher shortage and other pressures on the area's growing public school districts, Mays said he first would make sure the Eastern Panhandle delegation to the Legislature has a "consolidated voice."

"I consider myself a consensus builder," Mays said. "We've had far too often a couple legislators going off on their own."

Though legislation (Senate Bill 633) to allocate money to school districts with teacher shortages died in the House of Delegates earlier this year after easily passing the Senate, Unger said that since 2004, he has backed bills that speeded the payment of enrollment-based funding to growth counties and allowed local officials to retain more money for capital improvements.

"We've been making progress in the last three years," Unger said. "When I first went to Charleston eight years ago, we couldn't get anything passed out of the Senate."

Unger anticipates that 2007 will be the year that even more of Eastern Panhandle educators' concerns are addressed, specifically through the planned revision of the state's school aid formula in the regular session of the state Legislature.

To get other lawmakers to sign off on locality pay for educators, Mays said he would advocate that every teacher statewide be shown statistics routinely compiled by the federal government that show the differences in the cost of living.

He also said the school aid formula needs to be changed so that residents of counties that support education through levy elections are not penalized by the state.

Aside from particular issues facing the district, Mays said he would not have a "radio station" in his office in Charleston. As co-host of a local talk radio show, Unger has orchestrated remote broadcasts from his office during the legislative session that have included Gov. Joe Manchin and top Senate leaders as guests.

Unger said he was approached by national Democratic Party leaders to run for Congress, but decided he could help the community where he was born and raised more effectively in the Legislature.

Mays, meanwhile, noted his involvement with Region 9, the Chamber of Commerce and other community activities.

"I'm here all the time," said Mays, suggesting his opponent was not so readily available.

The 16th District includes Jefferson County and all of Berkeley County except for six precincts in the southwestern portion of the county. The position pays $15,000 per year.

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