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Topics wide and ranging in W.Va. gubernatorial debate

October 17, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican opponent Russ Weeks both said Thursday evening during the second of four planned gubernatorial debates that they were in favor of reinstating the death penalty in the state.

Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson renewed his opposition, citing his Christian beliefs.

Manchin conditioned his support on obtaining assurances that the individual's conviction was without error.

"I wish I was a strong enough Christian to say I was against (the death penalty), but I can't," said Manchin, a practicing Catholic.

Weeks loosely quoted a Bible scripture that he said indicated it was better that a person was drowned at sea with a millstone for hurting "little ones" as evidence that the death penalty was acceptable in Christian faith.

Manchin and Weeks' answers to the death penalty question was one of the few times that anyone in the crowd of more than 100 people on hand applauded.

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The debate, sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, The Journal and WEPM, was held at Hedgesville High School.

Johnson said he stood for the people and not the money he said has usurped the election process.

Manchin touted his efforts to reduce the state's debt and make the state more business-friendly, but said he wanted to serve another term because there was much more still to be done.

Weeks more than once mentioned the West Virginia University degree scandal involving the governor's daughter and said voters had an opportunity to go against the "ingrained system of cronyism and good ole' boy politics."

"My opponent has $2 million in the bank (for his campaign) and all the right connections," Weeks said.

When each of the candidates were given the opportunity to ask the others a question, Johnson asked Weeks and Manchin about their support of mountaintop removal coal mining. A form of coal mining, environment groups criticize the strip mining process, noting streams have been buried and the state's mountainous landscape has been flattened.

"There's a better way to do it," Manchin conceded. "We haven't done it well, I'll be the first to tell you."

Manchin said the mined area should have a greater value after the coal is mined and suggested the sites be used for more energy generation, such as solar or wind power.

Weeks cited the reuse of mined sites, questioning how many now had served as a building site for a Wal-Mart store and also noted a "world class" golf course in Mingo County, W.Va., was constructed at another.

"Mother Nature is a pretty powerful person," Weeks added. "Look at Mount St. Helens, how Mother Nature reclaimed that."

When asked about teacher pay, Manchin said he supported locality pay to offset the competition from neighboring states and a bonus system to hire teachers in critically needed areas, but noted both proposals died in the legislature.

"But I'm not giving up, we're going to continue to work ... to compete to keep the best," Manchin said.

Weeks said his compensation package would be so lucrative across the board that teachers wouldn't consider neighboring jurisdictions after gaining valuable training in West Virginia.

"This is another way that we're hemorrhaging money out of the state of West Virginia. I'm gonna treat teachers as the professionals that they are," Weeks said.

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