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Six candidates seek District 10’s open seats

PARKERSBURG — The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as economic development and education continue to be a concern for the candidates running for the West Virginia House of Delegates District 10.

There are six candidates running for the three available seats, including incumbents Republican Vernon Criss and Republican John Kelly. Republican Tom Azinger, who currently holds the third seat, decided not to run for re-election.

The other candidates are Republican Roger Conley, Republican Matt Dodrill, Democrat Trish Pritchard and Democrat Luke Winters.

The top three Republican candidates will move on to the general election in November. Both Pritchard and Winters will move on to the general election.

Criss, 65, is a local businessman who is running for his third consecutive term since 2016 and having previously served in the House since he was appointed in December 1987, re-elected in 1988 and served to 1990.

”I want to continue the work the Republicans have done over the last six years (since regaining the majority) and make government more efficient and less costly,” Criss said.

Criss feels his experience on the Finance Committee during his first time in the legislature and his business experience taught him about how to make things run efficiently at a lower cost.

”We look for ways to reduce the size of government through the spending habits and we are going to try to continue to do that,” he said.

Criss said the COVID-19 situation will cause some restrictions with revenue as the state and businesses are not bringing in as much as they normally would.

”We are going to have to look hard at the expenses,” he said. ”We will have to take a hard look at where these appropriations are going.”

A lot of the budget goes toward public education and health and human resources services. Due to lower revenue estimates, officials will have to look closely at how that money is spent.

The state still needs to do work in helping to attract jobs to West Virginia by not putting up the restrictions other states are and provide a place they can come to and do business while putting people to work.

”I hope West Virginia will be in that ballpark and people will come and look at us,” Criss said.

Kelly, 73, a DuPont retiree, is running for his fourth term in the House, having previously served on Parkersburg City Council for 14 years.

”I enjoy working for the people of West Virginia and more so the people of Wood County,” he said. ”It is gratifying when we are able to pass a bill that helps people.”

During the last session, he brought forward a manufacturing and jobs tax credit bill which provides incentives for new product expansion and job creation. He has also worked on the establishment of a natural gas storage hub for the state which he expects will bring a lot of jobs to the state if it can get finalized.

Kelly said many priorities in the state have changed due to the COVID-19 situation. The state’s projected income will be lower than initial estimates.

”We are going to have to face some hard choices this year with the budget,” he said. ”We are going to possibly have to make some budget cuts to programs that we would otherwise like to fund.

”This is going to be a time of decision and a time we need to make sure government does not run over our people. It is going to mean some difficult decisions for our government.”

His priorities will go towards helping to build the economy, including the proposed storage hub as well as bringing other businesses to the state and to Wood County. He also wants to continue to work to bring an ethane cracker plant to Wood County, all of which will bring needed jobs to the state and this area.

Conley, 63, the owner of Conley Fabrication, is in his fourth year as a Vienna City Councilman and is the current Chairman of the Wood County Executive Committee and is a member of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee.

”I will bring a common-sense business approach to the legislature,” he said. ”I feel we need more people in Charleston who have signed the front side of more checks than they have the back side.

”We need more people in Charleston who have created a budget and who can work within that budget. We need more people who understand that the money in the state’s budget is the people’s money and that money should be spent accordingly.”

He is also running on an anti-abortion, pro-2nd Amendment, religious freedom, family values platform.

Conley said as a Vienna Councilman he has had a consistent voting record in cutting costs and reducing spending as well as reducing taxes and removing unwarranted fees.

”I have a unique combination of a business owner’s approach and having a general knowledge of how government works and being able to combine the two and being very successful.”

Conley believes the state will be facing a revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 situation.

”We must tighten our belts and we must cut costs,” he said. ”We have to reduce spending.”

There is talk the federal government will backfill and make up for the lost revenue, but Conley feels more should be done at the state level in reducing spending.

”We need to make that gap smaller,” he said.

As the economy recovers, he would like to see more focus on roads and infrastructure in getting people back to work.

”It helps our state and it helps to heal our economy,” Conley said. ”Jobs are the backbone of our economy.”

Dodrill, 41, is a self-employed real estate developer who was elected and served four years on the Wood County Republican Executive Committee.

He feels West Virginia has been left behind technologically and educationally, a situation that needs corrected.

”People need more than a minimum wage economy to thrive,” he said. ”I have spent my life watching tech evolve; I can clearly see how it provides West Virginia a path to prosperity.”

He has consulted with local education boards on what skills and equipment they need to feel empowered to raise a generation of tech minded kids.

Dodrill feels West Virginia is not a friendly state to open a business or move a business to. Although the Secretary of State’s office has done a lot, he feels the legislature needs to do more.

”It is beyond time that the Legislature take up that torch and focus on trimming bloated regulations and passing new laws that help our small communities thrive economically,” he said. ”We need industries to drive jobs and stability for our people.

”Legislation either needs to help or get out of the way and let our state flourish.”

He also feels business opportunities and jobs can be developed through working the state’s supply of natural resources in both extracting and refining them here.

”We must stand up and stop being taken advantage of,” Dodrill said. ”Focus needs to be placed on developing areas all over the state instead of shipping all of our raw resources out of state to be refined.”

Pritchard, 64, retired from DuPont after 36 years doing different jobs at the company, is a first-time candidate. She has regularly encouraged people to get involved in the political process and felt running herself would be a good way of doing that. She has educated herself on the issues.

”It is important for all of us to get off the sidelines and get involved,” she said. ”It is important for us to have regular people run for office.

”I want to set a good example. More of us need to do this and step forward. It has been a real learning experience.”

Having worked in human resources at DuPont, she knows a lot about working with different people and generate compromise and consensus on a variety of things to meet a goal as well as developing policies for the company.

”The same skill set applies when you are talking about state policies and legislation,” Pritchard said. ”If you get the right people in the room, you can end up with a better outcome.

”I’m trained to be a good problem solver. That is what I did. We can find the best answer together.”

She feels the biggest issue the state is facing is a significant budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 situation.

This means the state will have to prioritize its spending.

”I think it is important to have people in Charleston fight for the right priorities,” Pritchard said. ”I don’t think we can afford to shortchange the fundamental priorities of this state.”

Education is one of the main priorities for the state, she said. Companies looking to come to any area always look at the education system to make sure it meets the needs of their people whose families would be coming into an area to live as well as meet the job needs the company has and will be hiring for.

”It has eroded over time that we can’t keep our young people in the state,” Pritchard said.

That is something many companies look at and the state needs to pay teachers better to attract better educators which in turn can attract big businesses.

”I’m worried this budget shortfall will impact our already strapped schools and healthcare systems,” Pritchard said.

Winters, 27, currently unemployed but has worked in customer service work, Medicare/healthcare work and substance abuse issues/addiction recovery, said he is running because he has been interested in politics and wanted to get involved, being inspired by candidates who did not take corporate political action committee money.

”We have not seen that kind of campaign strategy like that in West Virginia yet,” he said. ”I wanted to be a part of that.”

People in West Virginia are fed up with typical politicians in West Virginia and are looking for new ideas from someone who cares and wants to get things done, regardless of political party.

”People are not looking for partisan politics anymore,” Winters said. ”I can bring that.

”I’m great at discussing issues with people without them getting agitated. We need the same thing in our political system.”

Winters said he is a good listener and is willing to listen to what people have to say.

He has experience working in areas that West Virginia is having problems now, including the opioid crisis. With West Virginia’s older population, he has experience working with Medicaid that will help him there.

People leaving the state is an issue and something needs to be done to keep people here, like improving the educational system, bring in good paying jobs that keep the younger generation here and more. The state has to do more to address the opioid crisis like others around the world who have had success.

”I would like to take segments of their plans and do those here so we can solve our issues here,” Winters said.

Being younger himself, he feels he has a good idea what the younger generation will want and need to be successful in West Virginia.

”They are the future of the country,” he said. ”I am more in tune with what they are saying and how they want to move West Virginia forward.

”That could be an incentive for them to stay here if they see like minded individuals in our government.”

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