CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This year’s crop of Republican candidates in the 35th district are confident they’ll gain the majority in the House after the 2014 election.
Chris Stansbury, Richard McGinnis, Marie Sprouse-McDavid and incumbent John McCuskey met Friday with the Daily Mail editorial board to talk about issues facing the Legislature and state government. Two other candidates — incumbents Suzette Raines and Eric Nelson — were unable to attend. The candidates said they have seen a change in how voters respond to the Republican Party. People who identify as Democrats are starting to realize they espouse conservative values, they said.
“It’s our time,” said McDavid, co-owner of the Brickhouse Cardio Club, a fitness studio that has grown to more than 60 franchises in 20 states over the past three years.
McCuskey said Republicans gained more seats in the House last election not because voters were protesting against President Barack Obama, but because the party ran “awesome” candidates. He predicts Republicans will pick up even more seats this election and will surpass the 51 seats needed to gain the majority.
“Winning an election isn’t an easy thing and it’s not won by someone else on the ballot,” he said. “It’s won by standing on somebody’s doorstep, shaking their hand and saying ‘I’m John McCuskey and I want to be your delegate.’
“We had 46 people who were willing to go out and do that,” he said.
McCuskey is running for his second term in the House of Delegates and, as the only incumbent, was able to offer a little insight into the 2014 legislative session. He thinks West Virginia is in a unique position for commerce and tourism, but state government doesn’t take advantage of those opportunities.
“The biggest issue I see is that we really need to reset the priorities of our state government,” he said. “Our state government isn’t looking at fixing education, it’s looking at band-aiding education. Our state government isn’t looking at reforming the tax structure, it’s looking at band-aiding it.
“All of that gets moved to the back of the agenda, and if you look at the legislative session, which many people did, we had 60 days in two years to really tackle some of these difficult problems. I think people who live in this valley would say we didn’t tackle them well enough.”
Education is something all candidates said is important and needs to be reformed. Although the Legislature passed a sweeping education reform bill in 2013, they said it didn’t go far enough. McDavid has a daughter in first grade and said she can already see issues in the school system.
“I see that there’s a problem in our schools,” she said. “I can see it in her and she’s only in first grade, so I worry in the years to come what’s going to happen. We need to fix the flaws in our education system.”
Candidates offered their thoughts on how to fix the system, including limiting bureaucracy and allowing school boards to operate with more local control.
“One of the common themes I hear from administrators is the failure to be able to administer,” Stansbury said. “They just don’t feel like they have control of their school — they’re there to direct policy handed down from the state Board of Education. They expressed a lot of frustration.
“Who knows their children better than they do? They get the feedback from the teachers.”
McGinnis agreed, saying the system is top-heavy and that restricts teachers from reacting appropriately to problems in their classrooms.
“I think that the West Virginia school system has top-heavy administration and there is a need for more flexibility in the classroom,” he said.
Raines, who didn’t attend the meeting, said she thinks students need to be connected to career paths that are economically viable. And that needs to start early, she said.
“We need to make sure a fourth grader knows what an engineer is,” she said. “I’ve been really impressed by the work of community and technical colleges to adapt their programs and curriculum to the jobs available in that area. More work is being done to do that.”
But education may not matter if the state can’t attract jobs. All candidates agreed state government needs to reassess its budgetary priorities, especially when it comes to an aging infrastructure and road projects.
McGinnis noted much of the current problem with potholes is because of the unusual amount of ice and snow the state saw this year. He doesn’t support increasing taxes, but said it will likely be hard to come up with funding to fix the roads.
“It’s something that has to be taken care of,” he said.
Stansbury said it would be difficult for the state to attract new businesses if the infrastructure is failing. He said the state needs to do a better job at maintaining current infrastructure before funding new projects.
Nelson, who also did not attend the meeting, serves as minority chairman on the House Finance Committee. He said he believes the state needs to rethink its budgetary priorities.
“For us to succeed in economic development, business growth and infrastructure, our roads are a key ingredient, as is education,” he said.
Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.