CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made his case for re-election to a full four-year term during interviews with Gazette editors Monday, while Republican challenger Bill Maloney and Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson said it is time for a change in state government.
Tomblin, elected last October to complete the unexpired term of former Gov. Joe Manchin, said that thanks to stability in state government, high bond ratings and no tax increases, the state is increasingly attractive to business investors both foreign and domestic.
Citing the new Macy's distribution plant near Martinsburg, Tomblin noted, "They could have located anywhere in the country. They looked at 158 sites, and they chose West Virginia."
Maloney, however, said declines in manufacturing and coalmining jobs show the state is headed in the wrong direction.
"Things are not good. People are figuring out Republicans have good ideas," said Maloney, a Morgantown businessman who lost a close race to Tomblin in the 2011 special election.
Johnson, a frequent Mountain Party candidate, described himself as the progressive alternative in a race where the two major party candidates differ little on key issues.
The topics of discussion Monday ranged from Marcellus Shale legislation and global warming to the statewide public education audit.
Tomblin said the recommendations of an audit of the state's public education system by Public Works LLC would be part of the legislative agenda for the 2013 regular session.
He said he has not seen anything in the report that he could not support as governor.
"Our system ties the hands of people at the classroom level," he said, adding, "The emphasis should be on getting more of the control to the local level.
Maloney's assessment: "Way too much bureaucracy. Putting dollars in the classroom. Rewarding good teachers. It's pretty simple stuff."
Johnson agreed that bureaucracy in the Department of Education takes away from quality of education in the classroom, adding, "I agree teachers need raises across the board."
Tomblin and Maloney agreed that legislation passed in special session last December to regulate Marcellus Shale drilling is significant.
"Is it a perfect bill? No, but I think it offers our environment protection," said Tomblin. "Prior to that, we had no rules."
"Now, everybody knows the rules -- that was a big problem," said Maloney, adding, "The fact we have certainty is a good thing."
Johnson, meanwhile, said he would impose a moratorium on Marcellus Shale horizontal drilling -- pending further study of health and environmental risks associated with fracking, including the release of radioactive materials.
Johnson said the state should instead be focusing its efforts on drilling for geo-thermal energy, which ultimately could be a source of unlimited, nearly free energy for the state's businesses, industries and residents.
Tomblin said the administration continues to conduct costs-benefits analyses regarding the state's participation in the Affordable Care Act.
That includes options to expand Medicaid coverage to cover families with household incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and to participate in a state health benefit exchange.
"It needs to be an educated decision, an informed decision, before we lock West Virginians into something we can't afford," Tomblin said.
Maloney said he favors repealing the act.
"That's still our main goal, repeal the stupid thing," he said of the ACA. "To do that, we need to elect Mitt Romney and change the U.S. Senate."
Said Johnson, "We should be providing health care to our people, period."
On the issue of global warming, Tomblin said he's "not 100 percent convinced" it's a scientific reality, while Johnson said there is no question climate change is occurring and human activity is a key factor, and Maloney dismissed global warming as "a hoax."
Johnson called on Tomblin and Maloney to boycott next week's state Broadcasters' Association debate -- the only scheduled televised gubernatorial debate this fall -- unless he is allowed to participate.
Both said they believe Johnson should be allowed in the debate, but declined to boycott if the broadcasters' association continues to deny him access.
Maloney defended campaign ads contending that Tomblin has exhausted the state budget surplus, while Revenue Office figures show current Rainy Day fund balances totaling $883 million, along with an $88 million surplus carried over from the 2011-12 state budget.
"A lot of that is going to go away," Maloney said, citing the state's six-year budget forecast. "And a lot of that is Obama's stimulus."
A fourth candidate is running for governor: the Libertarian Party's David Moran.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.