U.S. House candidates in W.Va. outline their positions

KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Democrat Nick Casey (right) answers a question at Thursday’s forum for candidates for the 2nd District seat in the U.S. House, while Republican Alex Mooney (left) listens. Chris Hamilton, chairman of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council, stands between them.

It wasn’t really a debate: The candidates had seen the questions ahead of time, and they didn’t take any other questions from the audience or each other.

But the two major-party candidates for the U.S. House seat in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District — Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney — stood up in front of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council Thursday morning at the Charleston Civic Center. The two outlined their positions on issues including taxes, the federal debt, environmental regulations, funds for highways and the Affordable Care Act

Along the way, Mooney tried to tie Casey to President Obama, who is unpopular in West Virginia, and Casey reminded the audience that Mooney has been in West Virginia for just more than a year, moving from Maryland after considering, and deciding against, a race for Congress there.

Casey said he does not support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and believes Congress has become “ineffective.”

“Attempts to tie me to Obama are not going to work,” Casey said, adding that 34 percent of the money his campaign has raised came from Republicans.

Mooney said he is “proud to be a West Virginian by choice.”

Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, asked the candidates if they would support an increase in highway user fees. Such fees help finance the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is on the brink of insolvency. Congress is likely to soon pass a stopgap measure to keep highway funding alive, while discussing a long-term solution.

Casey said he would support such a move.

“It is outrageous that the Congress met and did not address this problem of providing money for the repair of roads and bridges across the country,” he said. “We have spent all this money in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are still throwing rocks at each other … . We don’t need to send this money out of the country.”

Mooney stressed his opposition to tax increases. “In my 12 years in the Maryland Legislature, I never voted to raise taxes.”

“We should sell parts of our national parks to help fund the Highway Trust Fund,” Mooney said. He also said that 17 percent of highway user fees “are going to transit [programs], not to highways.”

Casey said Mooney’s suggestion to cut funds from the federal public transit budget would be “an action that would dramatically and negatively impact the MARC commuter train service that the Eastern Panhandle of our state relies on.” MARC commuter trains carry Eastern Panhandle residents to and from Washington, D.C.

Mooney said the Affordable Care Act should be totally repealed.

“It is a complete mess,” he said.

Casey, a former state Democratic Party chairman, agreed that the ACA “is not perfect,” but said West Virginia residents and hospitals have seen benefits from the health-care legislation — specifically the expansion of the Medicaid program.

“More than 137,000 uninsured working West Virginians have gained health insurance,” Casey said, “and hospitals are receiving reimbursements they did not get before.”

Federal officials announced Thursday that 8,300 consumers in West Virginia would get refunds from their insurance companies because the companies spent too much on executive bonuses and other nonhealth-care items; those refunds are also required by the ACA.

Both candidates attacked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over recent regulations on coal-fired power plants that would reduce coal’s share of the nation’s energy profile from 39 percent last year to 30 percent by 2030.

Mooney stressed his “concerns about regulations coming out of Washington” related to the Clean Water Act, the EPA and “other regulations approved by Congress.”

Mooney also said he doesn’t believe that the science on climate change is settled, despite a vast majority of scientists who believe that man-made global warming is real. Earlier this year, a National Climate Assessment from 300 independent scientists detailed how climate change is already affecting the nation’s weather, communities and commerce.

Casey said of climate change, “It’s not our problem,” because it’s an international issue.

The forum did not allow questions from the news media. After the event, Casey stayed to answer questions from reporters. As Mooney walked rapidly out of the Civic Center after the forum, he responded to a reporter’s question about his support for Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions, by saying, “We will leave that up to the courts.” He would not answer any other questions.

Two other candidates running for the 2nd District seat, Libertarian Davy Jones and independent Ed Rabel, were not part of Thursday’s forum.

All four men are vying for the seat currently held by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Capito is running to replace Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring from the U.S. Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

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