RONCEVERTE — In all of West Virginia’s 17 Senatorial Districts, the youngest delegation belongs to the 10th.
Both Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, and Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, graduated from high school in 2000. They are the only pair of senators from the same district under the age of 40, Baldwin said.
Acknowledging that at 36, he’s the state’s youngest senator, Baldwin told The Register-Herald that he had feared that negative newspaper advertisements and flyers laden with misleading information about him would have an impact on this year’s general election.
“You can say anything for political purposes, and it’s OK,” he said ruefully.
But Baldwin ended up taking the four-county race in November with 53 percent of the vote to Republican George “Boogie” Ambler’s 47 percent.
“I did well in Greenbrier County despite the attacks,” Baldwin said. “With me running a positive campaign, I believe it shows that people don’t like the negative campaign tactics. Maybe that’ll have an impact on future campaigns.”
Baldwin said he participated in around six town hall-style meetings during the campaign, hearing from many of his constituents that economic recovery is their top concern.
The keys to economic recovery, however, involve bolstering infrastructure, health care and public education, along with completing flood recovery and addressing the drug crisis, he said, noting, “We need to get those right first.”
He said it was a challenge to carry his message to everyone in each of the four counties in his district (Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers and Fayette).
“There are not enough hours in the day to talk to all the people in those four counties,” he said.
With a goal of spending one full day in each county every week, Baldwin said he put a lot of miles on his vehicle while campaigning.
“My style is more relational than issue-oriented,” the Presbyterian pastor pointed out. “That’s difficult when there’s over 100,000 people in the district.”
Baldwin believes that the Legislature will see more cooperation and less contention among the membership in 2019. He cited two reasons for that belief.
“Number one, it’s not an election year, so there should be less posturing,” he said. “And there’s a little more balance now between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats were in control for a long time, and Republicans have been in control for the past four years. During all that time, the majority party could do what they wanted. With more balance, it will force us to talk to each other and listen to each other more.”
Having served in both houses of the state Legislature, Baldwin said achieving collegiality is actually easier in the Senate than in the House of Delegates.
“You’re dealing with a smaller group of legislators in the Senate,” he said. “All of the senators eat lunch together, and we get to know each other as people. Relationships are built.”
Baldwin identified personal legislative priorities for the upcoming session, with the drug issue in the forefront.
“Everybody talks about it, but it’s difficult to do something about it,” he said.
While a bill to hold doctors accountable for the number of opioids they prescribe passed into law in 2018, Baldwin said the state is still not holding drug manufacturers accountable. He hopes legislation to address that deficiency will pass next year.
The need for treatment facilities for those battling addictions is also a vital component of countering the substance epidemic, he said, pointing especially at the 140-bed Recovery Point facility in Fayette County that needs another half-million dollars in funding to open. When that facility debuts, Baldwin said, “It will help all the counties in the region.”
Also on the senator’s list of immediate priorities is Gov. Jim Justice’s recent revelation of a nascent plan to develop a Southern Regional Airport someplace in Greenbrier or Raleigh county.
“I am very supportive of that idea,” Baldwin said. “It could be big for this region. The governor is right on target with that.”
Baldwin said he will also continue to monitor developments connected to the previously announced closing of the ABB process analytics plant in Lewisburg, expected to occur in the next year or two.
“We haven’t had much encouraging information on that lately,” Baldwin conceded.
More than 100 jobs will be lost when ABB closes its Greenbrier County facility.
But with that door apparently closing, another is getting ready to open. Baldwin noted a major project is already in the works — the West Virginia Great Barrel Company’s operation that will create jobs in both Greenbrier and Monroe counties.
“I’ve worked with Tom Crabtree to pursue funding options and coordinate development efforts across levels of government (for the company),” Baldwin said.
Crabtree is the barrel company’s manager.
“It’s an important project because it represents phase two of flood recovery,” Baldwin said. “Housing has been priority No. 1 for two-and-a-half years now — and we’re not done with housing yet — but we also need respectable jobs that pay the bills to spur our recovery. The barrel company provides those and is on track to begin production this coming summer.”
According to a press release from the West Virginia Great Barrel Company (WVGBC), the Cooperage, located in the Harts Run area of White Sulphur Springs, will employ 60 people when production begins.
The Audrina Mill, an affiliated company of WVGBC in Monroe County, will produce the white oak staves that then will be assembled into whiskey barrels at the Cooperage in Greenbrier County. The mill will employ an additional 30 people.
— Email: email@example.com