Candidates for 61st District differ on past success of representation

October 15, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Jason Barrett, left, and Del. Walter E. Duke, R-Berkeley, are vying for the 61st district in the W.Va. House of Delegates
Jason Barrett, left, and Del. Walter E. Duke, R-Berkeley, are vying for the 61st district in the W.Va. House of Delegates

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Del. Walter E. Duke, R-Berkeley, has a familiar 2012 general election opponent in Jason Barrett, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the 61st district in the state House of Delegates.

Duke, 65, of 112 Tavern Road, Martinsburg, defeated Barrett, 30, of 1125 W. King St., Martinsburg, by more than 500 votes in 2010 to win a fifth term in the 100-member House.

Yet, the rematch this year is taking place on a newly redrawn and renamed playing field — the new 61st delegate district — thanks to population gains tallied in the 2010 census that required redistricting.

Delegates are elected to two-year terms and are paid $20,000 annually.

The boundary of the 61st district, which includes all of the city of Martinsburg, generally follows the municipality’s boundary line before extending out into the county on the western side west of Interstate 81. On the western side, the district line is bounded by Tuscarora Creek (north), Poorhouse Road (west) and a jagged southern boundary that follows or is in the vicinity of W.Va. 45 (Apple Harvest Drive).

When asked why voters should elect him to a sixth term, Duke, a retired schoolteacher, said he has followed through on goals to help solve inequities, improve the state’s business climate through tax reductions and net millions more for Berkeley County’s fast-growing school district through changes to the school aid formula.

“I think I’ve done what I’ve said. I think we are having results that are moving West Virginia in the right direction,” said Duke, who is the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “It’s frustrating we haven’t moved faster.” 

Barrett, who owns Anthony’s Pizza in Inwood, W.Va., said he’s been fortunate to have success in the community as a business owner for the last five years, and representing Berkeley County residents in the state Legislature would be a way to repay them for their support.

Without mentioning Duke by name, Barrett said he feels the city of Martinsburg is unique and has been “underrepresented” in the House of Delegates, something he would change if elected.

Duke responded that he is in regular contact with city leaders about their issues. He noted that he has worked with them to help channel state funding back to Martinsburg for schools in the city, as well as the public library, fire department, park improvements and other needs.

Barrett said West Virginia has done well in recent years overall, but added that the pressing concern expressed by voters is that they feel overlooked by leaders in Charleston, W.Va.

Barrett said he feels most strongly about the lack of tax revenue returned to the region from Charleston.

“We are essentially Charleston’s ATM,” Barrett said.

Duke said job creation and getting the economy back on track are the state’s most pressing issues.

If re-elected, Duke said the solution is multifaceted, but includes pushing back against federal mandates such as “Obamacare,” making additional state tax and court reforms, and tackling substance abuse.

The issue in this campaign that Duke said he feels most strongly about is the lack of follow-through on changes identified by an education audit that indicates about $200 million in spending could be cut or redirected to classrooms to address teacher salaries and technological needs. 

Since making his first bid to unseat Duke two years ago, Barrett said he has spent a fair amount of time building name recognition and relationships with lawmakers from across the state so he could hit the ground running if elected.

While proud to be a Democrat, Barrett said that doesn’t mean his party has “a lock” on good ideas.

Duke described himself as a “center-right” Republican, saying he believes he is more close to the center, politically, than the other four Republican delegates who represent Berkeley County in the House.

The Herald-Mail Articles