Statewide and local candidates stand united on service first for West Virginians
PENCE SPRINGS, W.Va. — All six candidates for West Virginia’s Executive Offices mingled with voters and spoke from a makeshift stage of a flatbed trailer on a cloudless, sparkling autumn day in the wide valley of the Hinton-Alderson Airport here on Oct. 17. They were joined by numerous other Democratic candidates for state and local offices, as well as interested citizens from near and far.
They were focused on similar themes — returning service to West Virginians as the priority of state government, modernization of state agencies and increased transparency by state agencies. Each candidate also focused on their respective qualifications for each position, emphasizing the importance of bringing expertise and focus to their work.
The six candidates are Ben Salango, Governor; Natalie Tennant, Secretary of State; Sam Petsonk, Attorney General; John Perdue, Treasurer; Mary Ann Claytor, Auditor; and, Bob Beach, Commissioner of Agriculture. They were joined by W.Va. House Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe, Senate candidate Bill Laird and others.
The event was sponsored by Three Rivers Democratic Women in close coordination with the Summers County Democratic Party. Summers County Democratic Executive Committee Chairperson Cleo Mathews shared, “We want to remind West Virginians why they should vote for Democrats. We are the party that cares for everybody, not just our friends. We care about healthcare. We care about education. We care about jobs.” She continued, “The Democrats will build us back. We can do better. We can make West Virginia great again. It wasn’t bad until the Republicans got hold of it.”
She criticized efforts by the GOP-controlled legislature to cut healthcare at all, let alone in the midst of the pandemic. “If they have their way, they’ll hurt people who’ve lost their jobs. It (healthcare) is all they’re holding onto. That’s just not right.”
Mathews argued that the state could do much better at providing work through support of agri-business. She is concerned about the ecology. Even though President Trump is favored to win West Virginia easily, Mathews is convinced the state candidates can win. She acknowledged the party has done some soul searching after several rounds of election defeats, especially since 2014, when the legislature flipped. “The party is listening more to the people. That’s why these issues are coming up. Because we’re listening.”
The candidates each drove that point home, whether alluding to the challenges of traveling the entire Mountain State, or of West Virginians offering shining examples of entrepreneurial spirit — that if supported by the state would flourish even more — as Beach did in his remarks.
Before the speakers took the stage, Tennant took a little time from talking with voters to share the highlights of her platform. She did so with her characteristic zeal. “In this time, this office could not be more important. You’re the chief elections officer.” Tennant, who was Secretary of State for two terms before narrowly losing to current Secretary of State Mac Warner in 2016, argued, “I’ve got a record of making it easier for West Virginians to vote.” This, and not sending out absentee ballots for the General Election are just two reasons that Tennant accuses Warner of voter suppression. She added, “We need a Secretary of State who is going to be transparent and report to the people.”
Salango, a Kanawha County Commissioner, is taking on billionaire Governor Jim Justice. He said, “I got in this race because West Virginia needs new leadership. Somebody who is not focused on himself. Someone that cares about healthcare, clean water and improving our infrastructure.” He continued, “That’s the difference between Jim Justice and myself. We need a governor that is about West Virginians, not himself. I’m working for West Virginia. He doesn’t pay his bills, he doesn’t pay his taxes. That’s why he has plenty of money to buy your vote.”
Salango concluded, in a reference to criticism that Justice does not work out of Charleston, but rather at his resort in Greenbrier County, “I’ll be in that governor’s office every single day working for you.”
Tennant spoke about the need to get the Secretary of State’s office moving forward again. She said, “I’m most proud of the way we treated customers, businesses and employees.” Tennant reported that she had just gotten the endorsement of the state’s Libertarian Party. She noted that pointed to her reputation for being fiscally conservative and streamlining services and costs for customers.
Treasurer John Perdue, the only Democratic incumbent in an Executive Office, said he was lonely and needed voters to send him some help. Alluding to his record, he spoke of returning unclaimed property to approximately 110,000 West Virginians. He said he brings to work everyday what his fellow candidates will. “I’m a people person. I’m about serving West Virginians.”
Bob Beach, a state senator representing Monongahela and Marion counties, noted that in asking for committee assignments, he has always asked for two — agriculture and education. Indeed, he has alluded to the importance of linking the two in a previous interview. He said, “People want to stay close to agriculture. That’s the story we need to be sharing. Agriculture is economic development.”
He continued, “If I had it my way, there would be a billboard in every county in West Virginia, saying, ‘Farmers Wanted.’”
When Claytor took the make-shift stage, she ascended the stairs carefully. It wasn’t long, though, before a newcomer could be forgiven if she thought she just entered church. Claytor boomed, “I am the only candidate that is a real auditor! I have spent 30-plus years in government auditing.”
She was just getting wound up. “It’s time to raise the bar,” she said has her voice raised a bit with each word.” Claytor said she welcomed the challenge. “I will stand against the political pressure. If I see something wrong, I’m not working for a political party, I’m working for the people of West Virginia.”
Petsonk called incumbent Attorney General Patrick Morrisey “A clear and present danger” to working people in West Virginia. He alluded to Morrisey’s attempt to take away insurance for 200,000 West Virginians. “The office of Attorney General is to be the people’s lawyer,” argued Petsonk.
Bill Baird, a former state senator from District 10 said that though he had retired from politics in 2016, largely because of how difficult it had become to negotiate, he said the current state of the state and nation compelled him to run again. He said some had called him too nice. He responded, “Being a kind man is not a sign of weakness.” A father of six and grandfather of nine, Baird concluded, “I stand for the working class. I believe strongly in public education.”
Cindy Lavender-Bowe, who represents House District 42, spoke about her passion for children and families. She shared, “When a piece of legislation crosses my desk, I ask one question, ‘How does this affect West Virginians?’ For too long, the focus has not been on West Virginia.”
She admitted staying in West Virginia is difficult because of limited economic opportunities. She argued, “There is no doubt West Virginia is suffering. But we have fought for 30 years. We know you can survive and thrive, but there are many hurdles.” In fact, she said it’s poor leadership that causes the hurdles. “We need to be a voice for the voiceless. A place where West Virginian working families can thrive.”
To learn more about the candidates, click below.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2020.