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Unger seeks fourth term

former delegate challenges him in primary

April 24, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- State Sen. John Unger is seeking to become the first state senator from Berkeley County to be elected to a fourth term since the late Clarence E. Martin Jr., who served five terms from 1951 to 1970.

Pat Murphy, who is seeking to unseat Unger in the May 11 primary election, doesn't believe he would put the Eastern Panhandle at a disadvantage in the state Senate even as the region stands to gain representation through the reapportionment process of the 2010 U.S. Census.

"Even though I'd be a freshman senator, I think I'd be going with a clean slate and I don't think I'd be a minor player sitting around the table there," said Murphy, who served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1983 to 1990.

Murphy, 62, of Martinsburg, cited his rise to vice chairman of the House Education Committee in his third year in the House and vice chairman of the Finance Committee in his seventh.

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Murphy said he didn't know why he moved up in leadership, but suggested it was because he worked hard, was approachable and still respectful when in disagreement with other delegates.

"They knew they had an alley cat, but they knew they had an upfront fighter," said Murphy, who is a retired schoolteacher.

As chairman of the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Unger, 41, of Martinsburg, said he has a "proven record of getting results" and is in a position to move up in leadership and use his seniority for the Eastern Panhandle's benefit in redistricting next year

State senators serve four-year terms and are paid $20,000 annually.

Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, noted successful efforts to obtain state support to speed the completion of W.Va. 9, $8.3 million for Martinsburg's Raleigh Street extension, the Tabler Station connector road and the opening of a second Division of Motor Vehicles office in the Eastern Panhandle in Jefferson County.

"Sometimes, when you stand up for people, people don't like it, they get mad," Unger said of his independence. "When you're not a lap dog and you just don't roll over and let them scratch your belly ... then they get mad at you if you don't go along."

In his legislative experience, Murphy said he is most proud of getting an amendment to a bill through the Legislature that gave people the right to speak at public meetings instead of having to sign up five days in advance to get on the meeting agenda.

"Now, the law says you can't require people to sign up any earlier than 15 minutes before a meeting," said Murphy, who also cited his work on the Inland Port Authority. "I've always been proud of the way I did it and what I accomplished."

Unger said the greatest accomplishment in his tenure has been when people in the district have directly contributed to getting bills passed.

He cited the passage of the Farmland Protection Act of 2000 and the PATH (Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline) bill this year.

"(They) truly came from the people," Unger said. "To me, the greatest accomplishment is when people are empowered through the (legislative) process and helping facilitate that is what I feel a representative should be."

Murphy said he began his campaign for the state Senate out of frustration with Charleston as a frustrated school board member.

"But as I've gone around campaigning, I've had my nose put back into the roots of our community," said Murphy, who resigned from the school board earlier this year to run for the 16th District Senate seat.

Among the "roots," Murphy said he has met residents such as a Wal-Mart clerk who is working two part-time jobs trying to make ends meet. Her husband is on disability.

"I doubt she will even vote, but that's the kind of people that I want to try to help," Murphy said.

Unger, a vicar/pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said his motivation for running again stems from his faith and abiding by Jesus' commandments to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

"I feel that as vicar/pastor, I'm doing the first commandment ... and I feel that I'm doing the second commandment by my public service as a state senator by loving your neighbor," he said.

When asked why voters should trust him to represent them in the Legislature, Murphy said he wasn't sure how to answer the question.

"I think the way that you behaved is what they have to judge you upon," Murphy said. "The way you lived your life should enable that trust. It shouldn't be something you have to proclaim."

Unger said his record of working with constituents to get bills passed "speaks for itself."

"This year, I think I got just as many bills passed this year as with all the delegation put together," Unger said. "I just think that through results, people can trust me."

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