Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (right) and Republican challenger Bill Maloney shake hands before their debate Tuesday night at the Clay Center.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the only debate of their rematch campaign for governor, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin stressed his steady leadership and fiscal responsibility, while Republican Bill Maloney argued that West Virginia has lost jobs and economic opportunities during Tomblin's 37 years in state politics.
"This election should be about real facts and what we're going to do about problems in this state, and not just sound bites," said Tomblin, who said the state has made tremendous progress in the past 15 years paying off long-term debts and cutting taxes.
"He says we need to stay the course," countered Maloney. "I say we need to build a brighter future for West Virginia."
Maloney said the issues in the Nov. 6 general election are, "jobs, mismanagement, corruption and Obama."
The 50-minute debate at the Clay Center in Charleston was marked by several testy exchanges, including one over Maloney's assertion that the Legislature had passed a coal "cap-and-trade" bill when Tomblin was Senate president.
"We didn't pass a cap-and-trade bill, as you have alleged on several occasions," Tomblin told Maloney. "We have an energy portfolio bill."
Tomblin also noted that Maloney contends that the state needs to crack down on lawsuit abuse, but also calls for additional lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency.
"On the one hand, he says there's too many lawsuits in West Virginia. On the other, he's criticizing me for not filing enough lawsuits," Tomblin said.
In one particularly heated exchange, Maloney accused the Tomblin administration of wasting federal stimulus funds to expand broadband Internet statewide. Tomblin asserted that the money was not wasted, and that all 55 counties will have broadband access by February.
The candidates also differed on state initiatives involving the federal Affordable Care Act.
Tomblin said he wants clear answers before committing West Virginia to programs including expanding Medicaid to cover residents with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
"I think everyone needs to have health care and insurance," Tomblin said. "It's a matter of how much we can afford."
Maloney said the key is to elect Mitt Romney president, in order to repeal "Obamacare."
He said people need to take more responsibility for their own health, citing himself and his wife as examples.
"Sharon and I get out every day and work out, and if everybody did that, we'd be a healthier state," Maloney said.
At some points, Maloney spoke in generalities, once prompting debate moderator Charles Ryan to say, "I'm not sure I got an answer."
In one example of contrasting styles, on the issue of prison overcrowding, Tomblin noted that he had brought in experts from the Council on State Government's Justice Center to study factors contributing to the problem, and said he is confident their recommendations will be introduced as legislation for the 2013 regular session.
Maloney blamed overcrowding on a lack of opportunities for younger West Virginians, saying, "The trick is to have less prisoners.
"We've got consultants hired looking at other consultants," Maloney complained at one point.
"Are you saying, as governor, you wouldn't look for expert advice?" Tomblin responded.
Tuesday's debate came one year and one week after then-acting Gov. Tomblin edged first-time candidate Maloney by less than 8,000 votes in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Joe Manchin.
Hosted by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and sponsored in part by AARP-West Virginia, the debate excluded Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson and Libertarian David Moran.
That prompted Mountain Party Chairwoman Charlotte Pritt, a former Democratic Party nominee for governor, to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission contending that Johnson's exclusion from the debate constituted a misuse of public airwaves since, under state law, the Mountain Party is recognized as a major political party.
Johnson, who unsuccessfully sought a court order Tuesday to participate, joined with campaign supporters outside the Clay Center during the debate.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1220.