Wood County Democrats hold forum to educate candidates

Photo by Jeffrey Saulton Autumn Long, left, program director for Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia, and Chip Pickering, right, of Pickering Energy Solutions, spoke about promoting solar energy in the state.

PARKERSBURG — In a twist on the traditional meet-the-candidate forums, the Wood County Democratic Party Executive Committee had its first Policy and Community Group Forum on Saturday morning.

About 50 people gathered at First United Methodist Church for the forum where candidates heard from experts and representatives from nine community groups making presentations and taking questions.

Sue Ellen Waybright, with the Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley, said the forum was for groups to speak to candidates and the public about issues and their ideas for solutions they hope the candidates will listen to and back in their campaigns and if elected.

“We found out in the legislative session many of our representatives did not understand the impact of what they were passing,” she said. “So we decided to have the first candidates forum to educate the candidates.

“We called it a reverse candidates forum to educate them; instead of them giving their spiel to learn from the people.”

Photo by Jeffrey Saulton Joseph Cohen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, spoke about the group’s top legislative issue in 2018 and 2019.

Josh Lemley, a member of the Wood County Democratic Party Executive Committee, said the forum is also designed to inform everyone involved.

“Part of it is to educate the candidates and was also a way to educate the community,” he said. “We’ve had people come in and listen.”

Kendra Fershee, who is running for West Virginia’s First Congressional district seat, attended Saturday’s forum.

“I’ve been asked lately about polls and this is far superior to polls,” she said. “This allows us to dig into the issues and hear from people who are experts.”

Joseph Cohen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, spoke about the group’s top legislative issue in 2018 and 2019 was to end the scourge of mass incarceration in West Virginia and reform the state’s justice system which he called “broken and getting worse” against national trends.

“Since 1970 the U.S. incarcerated population has grown 700 percent,” he said. “There are now 2.3 million Americans in prison today. Far, far outpacing population growth when the crime rate has actually dropped.”

Cohen said the state has an unfair and uneven bail system. He said last year they came close to getting a reform bill to the legislature but it got held up in a senate committee late in the session and died when time ran out.

“The way our system works, bail is routinely set too high for people charged with a crime,” he said. “If we take a look back at why this is happening, I believe, and most people who look at our system, is magistrates want to look tough on crime and have some fear that a person released on their own recognizance could commit some other crime. They think it is politically expedient for them to set extremely high bail.”

Cohen said the New Jersey’s system was changed and there has been a 20 percent decrease in pre-trial detainee population.

“Last year we drafted a bail reform bill that was largely based on the New Jersey model,” he said. “We would reduce our jail population by 60 everyday and save the state $16 million every year.”

Autumn Long, program director for Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia, and Chip Pickering, of Pickering Energy Solutions, spoke about promoting solar energy in the state.

“Solar converts sunlight into electricity,” she said. “You put up solar panels, they create electricity that flows into your house and it helps power everything and any excess being produced flows out into the electrical system and powers others. You are participating in the local energy system that until now has been really not possible.”

West Virginia’s solar industry is still a new industry.

Pickering said opportunities for solar are parallel with other renewable sources in the state which are hydro and wind.

“Renewable energy is any energy that are from natural forces on the earth,” he said. “In West Virginia 94 percent of the electricity is from burning coal.”

However, Pickering said the state is at the bottom of the list in production of solar energy. He said it is six mega-watt hours, about the total output of two wind turbines in the Elkins area.

Other speakers at Saturday’s forum included representatives from Artsbridge, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Planned Parenthood, Circles Campaign, West Virginia AHC, Our Children, Our Future and West Virginia American Federation of Teachers.

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