Candidates seek District 10 seats in House of Delegates
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 five candidates running for the three available seats, incumbent Republicans Vernon Criss and John Kelly, Republican Roger Conley, Democrat Trish Pritchard and Democrat Luke Winters.
Criss, 66, is a businessman 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.
Among challenges is continuing to work through the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the state.
”Our finances seem to be good,” Criss said. ”We are running ahead of estimates with tax revenue estimates. That seems to be happening in all categories.”
Lawmakers are still looking to sell bonds sold in 2017 to finance road projects.
”We still have some road construction money to get and get some projects started,” Criss said.
Lawmakers have been able to cut the income tax off of veterans retirement pay.
”We have started the process in reducing and eliminating the tax on Social Security income, he said. ”Next year, when these people get ready to pay their taxes, they will see a reduction in their state income tax on their Social Security income.”
Criss said he wants to work on ways to reduce personal income tax at the state level.
”I want to put more money back into the pockets of state residents who are working,” Criss said.
Things will be difficult if COVID-19 is still an issue by February when the legislature’s general session is scheduled to get underway.
The leadership is working on ways to proceed with the session, along with a regular meeting schedule, but Criss believes there could be difficulties.
”It is going to be difficult,” he said. ”We may not be taking up a lot of legislation other than the budget which we are Constitutionally required to pass,” Criss said. ”This next session, based on the coronavirus, may be difficult to take up anything other than the budget.”
Criss said he regularly gets phone calls from constituents all the time and has had people visit him at his office with concerns.
Many problems center on road repairs and problems with the department of motor vehicles office. He has talked with state officials about people having trouble getting appointments made at the DMV office to get needed paperwork done or drivers licenses renewed.
”That is pretty upsetting, especially for elderly people,” Criss said. ”We are trying to work through that.”
With the challenges of the pandemic, Criss said they are trying to get things done.
“We are doing our best,” he said.
Kelly, 74, a DuPont retiree, is running for his fourth term in the House, having previously served on Parkersburg City Council for 14 years.
He feels lawmakers will be looking at issues revolving around COVID-19 and the pandemic.
”That remains a really big issue,” he said.
In addition to that, continuing job development issues remain a priority for him.
”It is bringing in companies and continuing some of the things we have done for the last three years,” Kelly said. ”We need to keep our taxes down at a low rate.
”I think we need to continue to give West Virginia a good standard of living and make it a good place to live, work and raise a family.”
The Legislature recently passed some economic bills that people are now starting to see the results from including the recent announcement of the Virgin Hyperloop in Tucker County and solar energy facilities on Brown Island in Hancock County as well as in Putnum County.
”Throughout the state, there has been four major solar projects announced since we last adjourned,” Kelly said adding there is also tax credit measures in place which encourage incentives for businesses to create jobs.”
He is the vice-chairman on the House Energy Committee and he wants to be able to expand natural gas, solar facilities and energy throughout the state.
Kelly said he listens to the people he represents, takes their ideas back to the legislature and he listens to the businesses which provides jobs in the state.
”I try to listen and evaluate and I try to move forward with programs that will be beneficial to the people, not just in Wood County, but people throughout the state of West Virginia,” he said.
Conley, 64, has been the owner and operator of Conley Fabrication LLC for nearly 12 years and has worked in the manufacturing business for 40 years either as owner or in upper management. He is a lifelong resident of Wood County, having lived in Mineral Wells for over 30 years and the past 14 years in Vienna. He has served on the Vienna City Council for four years.
”I have a proven voting record as a Vienna City councilman for fighting for my constituents to cut cost, reduce spending while increasing efficiency, fought hard against and voted against a huge water and sewer hike that I felt was unnecessary and fought to reduce certain other fees and to eliminate them for seniors.”
Conley feels the biggest issues facing the state are lost revenue due to COVID-19, which will make balancing the budget a challenge. Economic development and job creation, infrastructure issues and the state’s continuing drug abuse problems are other challenges lawmakers need to continue to address.
”Jobs are the backbone of our economy,” Conley said. ”Most jobs are created by small business. As a small business owner for many years I have created a lot of jobs and hope to continue doing that. Job creation is often talked about by politicians, and many of them have never and probably never will create a job. Job creation takes more than talk. It takes a plan. I have those plans.”
Conley also wants to work at reducing regulations and the red tape that strangles developing natural resources like coal, oil and gas.
”This can and must be done while protecting the environment of our beautiful state and the rights of our property owners,” he said.
Conley wants a focus on vocational education to be able to supply trade jobs with qualified people which can lead to better roads and more.
”We need to place more emphases on the trades; these are good paying respectable jobs,” he said. ”Not everyone will be a doctor, lawyer or MBA. Our roads must be addressed to entice business. Roads built or repaired, bridges built or repaired creates jobs and stimulates the economy.”
Pritchard, 64, retired from DuPont after 36 years working as an operator, supervisor and a human resources specialist, She is a first-time candidate.
She grew up in Wood County. She and her husband Ron raised their sons on a farm off New England Ridge in Washington, W.Va. She now resides in Parkersburg.
”I spent my career bringing people with different perspectives together to solve problems,” she said. ”Training and experience in steps to define problems and implement effective solutions is key to my approach to being a legislator.
She said her campaign was run without taking money from corporations.
”I will be objective and support the best policies and legislation that helps working families here in Wood County,” Pritchard said.
She is focused on issues in Wood County. Part of that is making sure children have a good education.
”Educating our children for the future requires funding pay and benefits for our teachers and school service personnel,” Pritchard said.
Another issue is making sure opportunities exist in West Virginia so young people will seek opportunities here.
”Good paying jobs to keep our young people here in West Virginia depend on understanding Right to Work is wrong and paying prevailing wage is right,” Pritchard said.
Healthcare access and addiction recovery resources continues to be an issue for many in the state.
”We can expand Medicaid to cover assisted living for seniors and post-partum care for young mothers,” Pritchard said. ”Coordinating addiction recovery resources and holding programs accountable for best practices and outcomes is important.”
Winters, 27, Vienna, was an independent transportation specialist for government agencies and their clients for a year.
Many of the problems facing the state include the opioid epidemic where West Virginia has one of the highest overdose death rate in the country; COVID-19 where hundreds of West Virginians have died, thousands have been hospitalized, and tens of thousands have been infected; and young people leaving the state to find opportunities elsewhere.
”As a legislator I would sponsor and cosponsor the 33 WV Can’t Wait policy plans written by the people of West Virginia which include plans to address our opioid epidemic, COVID19 and our population loss,” he said. ”Recovery Can’t Wait is our plan to address the opioid crisis that costs West Virginia’s economy $8.8 billion per year, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
”In order to cease this crisis we must ensure that anybody needing treatment is getting treatment and not sitting on a waiting list, we must enact a Recovery Jobs program, we must ensure that drug companies no longer profit off our pain, we must choose rehabilitation over incarceration and we must guarantee our kids are being educated on substance use disorder and all school personnel, as well as students, have access to a mental health professional.”
Winters feels West Virginia needs to follow a clear and consistent plan to address COVID-19 with increased testing at the local level. and getting PPE available to those who need it and enforcing all guidelines including mask mandates, social distancing, and capacity limits.
To keep young people here and create opportunities here, Winters believes they can make West Virginia a place to build a long term future by making access to universal childcare affordable, investing in the education system and teachers, passing the Worker’s Bill of Rights plan, providing student debt relief for those who choose to stay in state post graduation, ending discrimination of all forms, making broadband a public utility, protecting water and land, and comprising a coalition of young people who can advise West Virginia on how to attract and retain the younger generations to this state.
He has signed a pledge to not accept corporate PAC money; to never cross a picket line; never hide from a debate; and never punch down while remembering “the fight is with the wealthy good old boys club and not each other.”
His campaign also signed the New Deal for West Virginia, 33 individual plans written by listening to the people of West Virginia.
”My approach to being a legislator would be a combination of listening to my constituents first and then subsequently forming a consensus among lawmakers based on the feedback from constituents,” Winters said.