By Wendy Holdren
The four men vying for two slots representing the 42nd Delegate District were quizzed on their qualifications during a Tuesday evening candidate forum at the State Fair Event Center.
The newly-constituted 42nd includes all of Greenbrier County, along with portions of Monroe and Summers counties.
On the hot seat were Republicans George “Boogie” Ambler and Ray Canterbury and Democrats Steve Hunter and Glenn Singer.
Canterbury is the only one of the four with experience in the Legislature, just now wrapping up his sixth two-year term in the House. He told the crowd he knows “how things work” as a result of that experience.
“Experience matters a lot in Charleston,” he said.
Jobs and the economy were the focus of several of the questions posed by the audience, via moderator Mike Kidd of Radio Greenbrier.
A Lewisburg attorney, Hunter pointed to his experience in negotiating deals and navigating the halls of power as major reasons for voters to lend him their support, saying, “I will work my heart out to create jobs and grow the West Virginia economy.”
Ambler noted that legislators will be required to make tough choices in determining which programs to cut and which to save, mainly due to the losses in coal mining jobs.
A longtime public school teacher, Ambler said education is the key to preparing West Virginians of all ages for the next generation of jobs.
“We need to have a good quality work force,” he said.
Canterbury agreed that education reforms are necessary, citing a recent audit that proposed changes in the system that would save the state up to $90 million a year.
He said the state’s public education system must emphasize math and science and shift more resources to vocational and technical programs.
Singer suggested the state look at the assets already in place, using the natural beauty and the availability of suitable locations for businesses in Greenbrier County as examples of those resources.
“Our empty storefronts are a resource,” he said, arguing that, with reasonable rents or purchase prices, those vacant spaces could help attract companies to open businesses here.
“We do have things to offer,” Singer maintained.
Asked about the issue of jail overcrowding, Hunter set himself apart from the other candidates, saying West Virginians are not clamoring to have criminals on the streets instead of behind bars. Until public opinion shifts, he said, jails will continue to fill to the brim, especially with the prescription drug abuse problem spiraling out of control.
“It’s a national problem; it’s not just a West Virginia problem,” Hunter said.
Singer said the Legislature should look at the laws on the books and try to fine-tune them to reflect the alternate sentencing programs — like day report centers and community corrections services — that are now available.
“We can change the ways we’re punishing these people,” he said.
Ambler and Canterbury agreed that treating drug addicts in rehab centers rather than incarcerating them would better serve society.
Singer stood alone in calling for a moratorium in oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale using the controversial “fracking” process, saying, “This is a complex issue.”
He warned that a single accident in the use of toxic chemicals in an area like the Greenbrier Valley, with its limestone caverns, could compromise the drinking water supply for generations to come.
“We need to make sure the public is safe, that our drinking water is safe,” Singer said.
Hunter countered, “Nobody wants to endanger our water supply.”
He said, “Fracking is here. It can be regulated.”
The candidate forum was hosted by the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce, with the event’s radio and TV broadcast sponsored by Frontier Communications.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org