Democratic candidates in the House of Delegates’ 35th District are divided over whether state lawmakers should have passed legislation that repealed municipal gun regulations.
Candidates who would have opposed the bill said Wednesday that weapons don’t belong in community centers and recreation facilities that provide activities for children.
Thornton Cooper, a Charleston lawyer, said he worked on the bond issue that funded the construction of the South Charleston Community Center years ago.
“The idea that people can bring guns into that facility is outrageous,” Cooper said Wednesday during a meeting with Gazette editors.
But two candidates said gun regulations should be the same in all parts of the state, so gun owners won’t be burdened by conflicting regulations when they travel throughout West Virginia.
“We need to have uniformity,” said Bret Nida, a real estate agent running in the 35th District.
Added candidate Gary Winter, a retired state employee: “We should have one set of reasonable regulations.”
Andrew Byrd, a lawyer and landlord, said he was most worried about guns winding up in courtrooms.
“There are certain buildings where it should be prohibited,” Byrd said.
John Caudill, a St. Albans city council member and retired Kroger executive, said cities and towns should have the power to set their own regulations on guns.
“Being part of a municipal government, you do need control of your own area,” Caudill said. “You can police it better than anybody. Who else knows it better than the people who live there, work there and govern there.”
Barbara “Bobbie” Hatfield, a Democrat and former House member for 22 years, said the gun legislation should be repealed.
“Municipalities should make those decisions,” Hatfield said.
Also Wednesday, the Democratic candidates said state lawmakers must do more to bolster West Virginia’s economy so people don’t have to leave the state to find jobs.
Winter said legislation was needed to help small businesses.
“I think we need to develop a school to teach people how to become entrepreneurs,” he said.
Caudill said more emphasis should be put on vocational and technical education as companies struggle to fill technician jobs.
“Not every job is a college-degree job,” Caudill said.
Hatfield said West Virginia must strengthen employment-training programs for people who want to work in the oil and natural gas industry. Hatfield said many high school students don’t know what types of jobs are plentiful across the state.
“They have to know what to prepare for,” she said.
Nida and Byrd said they would support economic development programs such as Project Launchpad, which would give tax credits to entrepreneurs who start high-tech businesses.
“We need to create more opportunities for small businesses to access capital funding, and we need less red tape,” Nida said.
During the recent legislative session, the House and Senate approved a bill that established Project Launchpad. But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the legislation, saying the state already had a large number of tax-incentive programs to lure technology firms to West Virginia.
Byrd said he was disappointed by the governor’s veto.
“We need creative and innovative legislation to bring jobs to West Virginia,” Byrd said. “That’s what that [bill] did.”
Cooper, however, said West Virginia must be careful about setting up programs that give tax breaks to businesses. Over the years, many such programs have failed to create jobs, he said.
“What we’re doing has not worked,” Cooper said. “Check back and see all the things that have been done in the last 10 to 15 years, and how many of those things have flopped.”
Three other Democrats running in the 35th District — Sherri Wong, Joe Wallace and David Harless — did not attend Wednesday’s meeting with Gazette editors.
The House of Delegates’ four-member 35th District stretches across parts of South Charleston, Dunbar, St. Albans and South Hills. West Virginia’s primary election is May 13.
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.