Democratic challenger Mike Green, left, and Sen. Russ Weeks speak to Bray Cary, far right, with WVNS-TV in Ghent in their second head-on forum this week, a segment of“Decision Makers,” hosted by the TV station.

Democratic challenger Mike Green feels economic development is more important in West Virginia than the “values issues,” but Sen. Russ Weeks says the two are on par with one another and cannot be separated.

Green and the Republican incumbent clashed on one such moral issue — gambling — in their second head-on forum this week, a segment of “Decision Makers” hosted by WVNS-TV in Ghent.

The session will air at 9 a.m. Saturday and again at 8 a.m. Sunday on CBS59. Weeks and Green met in a debate, televised live Tuesday night, by WVVA-TV.

“Without question, I want to clarify that I’m a pro-life, Christian Democrat, with strong family values,” Green told moderator Bray Cary, president and CEO of West Virginia Media, parent of the station.

“I believe West Virginia has been caught up in the national scene here in social issues that have been used to divide the country.”

Green said his top priority is to enhance West Virginia’s business climate, education system and health care network.

“The real issues to me are taking care of the constituency here — Social Security, health care, education,” he said.

“Those are the issues that will all stem from economic development.”

Weeks, elected four years ago largely on a pro-life platform, said moral and economic issues go hand-in-glove and cannot be divided.

“We have to get our moral house in order,” the senator said.

Weeks agreed a strong economy would lessen many of the social ills by providing decent jobs so that many are removed from support programs, then reminded Cary he was backed by the West Virginia Family Foundation, a conservative Christian group active in legislative matters.

“I’m more concerned about my eternal soul than I am with life right here,” Weeks said.

Passions grew inflamed near the close of the question-and-answer forum when Cary reminded Green of his out-of-state financial support by gamblers, including a wealthy New York family with interests in a Wheeling race track.

“I can assure you that I’ve not promised anything in this campaign,” the Democratic nominee in the 9th District contest said.

“I think, at the end of the day, you’re going to see that we’re going to receive more in financial contributions in this district from business groups, from labor groups, from all groups throughout the state of West Virginia, because without question, the people are ready for a change in southern West Virginia.”

Green said his final financial statement, due after the Nov. 7 election, will reflect money donated “across the board” from business and labor groups.

“You don’t hear anything about that, because that doesn’t sell the newspapers,” he groused.

Weeks said gambling money is unreliable “because it is so fluid,” adding West Virginia already ranks seventh in the percentage of budget money derived from gamblers.

“We can’t do that,” he said. “That’s not a good thing. You have to look 20, 30, 40 years down the road and you can’t do that, based on what we may or may not get from gambling.”

Green insisted he never pledged to support an expansion of gambling and would vote against any such effort as a senator, but again said he would vote for a local option on table games gambling in the four counties with tracks — Kanawha, Jefferson, Ohio and Hancock.

If casino gambling referendums fail, Green said, the state will need “inspired leadership” that he promised to provide to find ways of replacing revenues that would be lost.

Green said he would accept a compromise — eliminating slot machine casinos in neighborhoods in exchange for local county options.

“Local casinos are a cancer,” said Green, owner of a home building-renovation firm and greyhound dog breeder, said. “That’s the problem in our communities throughout the state.”

That led Weeks to shoot back, “He wants all the gambling done up at the tracks because three-fourths of every penny that goes into those slot machines comes back to him.”

Both men agreed the Legislature needs to reform its tax structure.

Green said an outright elimination, or aggressive reduction, of both the corporate net income and business franchise taxes would have an “immediate” positive impact on the economy and attract new firms.

Asked about a Green ad that portrays him as “confrontational” rather than cooperative, Weeks said his hard-line stands resulted in mandatory prison terms for sexual predators preying on children in a new law this year.

Moreover, Weeks added, his dogged attitude helped force the Department of Health and Human Resources to crawfish on more stringent guidelines in the Title 19 waiver provision in Medicaid that drove hundreds out of an in-home care treatment program.

“It wasn’t cooperation that got the governor to back off from taking elderly people out of their homes and placing them in nursing homes,” Weeks said.

Weeks said he has incurred the wrath of the Democratic leadership for attempting to hold state officials accountable.

“I commend Sen. Weeks for his convictions, but the bottom line is, we’re sent down there to represent the constituents of this district,” Green responded.

Early on, the challenger said, he has called for higher spending in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“Sen. Weeks will come out and say I’m a big spending, government liberal whenever I’m calling to fund these programs,” he said.

“The minute there’s political capital involved in these issues, he wants to jump to the forefront and say he’s fighting for working people of this area. So, you can’t have it both ways. You need to have convictions, but you need to be a strong leader. I’m best suited to do that.”

Green wasn’t sure just where he would cut state government, if tax reforms deny the coffers some needed revenue.

But if changes are made in corporate net and business franchise taxes, the challenger said, “you would generate enough revenue that you won’t have to cut government at this time.”

“I would stop the nepotism that is going on in Charleston and stop the good ol’ boy system hiring network, ‘you’re my friend, get me this job,’” Weeks responded.

“Get rid of that, cut to the bare bones, and we’ll have a better state.”

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