By Sarah Plummer
In a battle of jabs and gibes, many candidates at the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce’s Meet the Candidate forum Thursday responded to attack ads and returned fire to their opponents.
The first of 30 candidates to speak, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice responded to reports that he is behind in paying bills.
“I’m attacked over and over for taxes and bills. Think about it, 55 coal companies took bankruptcy, the easy way out. I took over assets in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia that were all struggling. I bailed them out. I may be a little late, but I get there, and there has been no bankruptcy out of Jim Justice,” he said.
Justice also said he does not support President Barack Obama or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, despite claims made by his opponent, Senate President and Republican Bill Cole.
“Bill Cole wants to be governor for Bill Cole. He likes to be king. All I want to do is help,” he added.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole said he is often billed as a career politician despite finishing off his first term as a state senator.
He said he remains proud of working on more than 200 bipartisan bills during the last legislative session, many of which were tough issues he pushed through despite it being an election year.
“I’ve demonstrated I’m in this for the right reasons, and I want to be the leader, leading from the front. I have the will, determination, and grit to do the tough things,” he said.
He said Justice will remain involved in his more than 100 businesses and coaching basketball in Greenbrier County.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a part-time governor,” he said.
Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives Matt Detch, Democrat, and incumbent Evan Jenkins, Republican, butted heads over money and influence.
Detch said Jenkins’ campaign has accepted money from special interest groups.
“He is a good person, but I wonder where his interests fall when he is taking checks from pharmaceutical companies and the billionaire Koch brothers,” he said.
“We are facing extremely tough challenges — drugs, eduction, and an even bigger issue. We are losing our state’s greatest resource, the minds and talent of future generations,” he said. “My family has been in West Virginia for 10 generations, and I’m deeply concerned I might be the last. We can ill afford to keep looking toward the past.”
Jenkins immediately aligned Detch with Clinton, and said he would be an “anti-jobs, anti-coal congressman.”
“Give me another two years. I’ve got the Reclaim Act, which will put $1 billion into hard-hit Appalachia. We are investing in the priorities, and we are succeeding,” he said.
Mac Warner, Republican candidate for secretary of state, questioned incumbent Natalie Tennant’s oversight of local elections, noting that local county clerks have not had the contact and direction they need.
“The Secretary of State’s Office needs to be more transparent, increase interface with citizens, improve the computer system and not release Social Security numbers, which this office has done repeatedly,” he said.
Tennant said she has worked during her tenure to modernize the election, provide online registration and investigate claims of voter fraud or rigged election.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent statement that he might not accept the outcome of the Nov. 8 election is “an assault on all us Americans,” she said.
“I take security of elections very seriously. To say they are rigged without fact or evidence is a disservice to men and women who have died for our democracy,” she said. “I have a record of addressing any concerns, including leading an 18-month investigation that put members of my own party in federal prison.”
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