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W.Va. House, Senate candidates address issues at forum

April 09, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- More than 80 citizens watched as local politicians tried to put their best foot forward Thursday night in the second pre-election forum sponsored by the Jefferson County League of Women Voters.

The event was in the Shepherdstown Mens Club.

Moderator Lori Stilley fired questions at the eight candidates who took seats at the table before the audience.

Up first were candidates for the 16th Senatorial District and 57th Delegate District.

Incumbent state Sen. John Unger of Berkeley County sat next to his Democratic primary challenger Pat Murphy, also of Berkeley County.

In the 57th Delegate District, incumbent John Doyle sat to the left of his Democratic primary challenger, Lori Rea. Both are from Shepherdstown.

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Elliott Simon, a candidate in the Republican race for the 57th District, was in attendance. His primary opponent, Donnie Baker, did not attend.

The second shift occupying the table were four Jefferson County Board of Education candidates, including two incumbents, Board President Peter Dougherty and Mariland Lee Dunn. Challengers on hand were Laurie M. Ogden and Karan Townsend.

A fifth candidate for the three seats up for grab, incumbent Scott Sudduth, was unable to attend.

Questions, from the audience, were read by Stilley on printed cards.

She asked the same questions of all four Charleston hopefuls.

Unger, in opening remarks, talked of his 12 years in the state Senate and the experience and political savvy it has brought him. "We need a team with knowledge to represent the Eastern Panhandle," he said, especially with the redistricting the U.S. Census will mandate next year.

Murphy, a political veteran, served eight years in the West Virginia House of Delegates, a four-year term as a Berkeley County Commissioner and four terms on the Berkeley County Board of Education.

He said he is running for the state senate because he wants to fight Charleston for disenfranchising local government.

Rea, a political newcomer, challenged Doyle for being ineffective in the House of Delegates saying that only one of 71 pieces of legislation he sponsored passed.

Doyle defended himself, saying most of his bills went through the Senate without his name on them. He said his focus has always been on higher education, land use and tax reform.

Answering a citizen's question on the lack of infrastructure on the communities on Blue Ridge Mountain, especially its lack of a workable public water system, Murphy said some mountain residents have to draw their water from a community pipe.

"I would not let my children or grandchildren drink from that pipe." He said he would like to bring Gov. Joe Manchin to the pipe and see if he would drink from it.

All four candidates agreed that it's not only a problem for people on the mountain, but one that must be shared by all county residents.

Unger, given a question on the condition of the area's state roads, said legislation as it stands now gives most money to areas that use the roads the most -- in one case in particular coal trucks in the southern coal fields. Legislation is needed to equalize state aid to all regions.

As expected, Doyle's idea of a 5-cents-a-gallon gas tax drew critics who said it wouldn't work in a border county like Jefferson. Drivers could easily cross state lines for cheaper gas.

"It's OK to oppose it if you don't mind potholes," Doyle said. Such a tax would cost an average driver about $200 a year.

Answering a question on state taxes, Rea said one area that should not be cut is public education "when we have the lowest number of graduates and the lowest number of students who go on to advanced degrees."

All four agreed that it's time to curtail the state government's practice of making decisions for local governments.

"The psychology in state government is the idea that all decisions are made in Charleston," Doyle said. "That's changing."

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