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Gov. Jim Justice is seeking a second term. Justice was elected as a Democrat in 2016 but switched to the Republican Party in late 2017.

Republican PrimaryJim Justice (Incumbent)

Education: Marshall University, MBA

Occupation: West Virginia governor, owner of more than a hundred business interests, head coach of the Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team.

Gov. Justice’s campaign did not return a questionnaire submitted by the Gazette-Mail. The following is an excerpt of his reply to questions from the West Virginia League of Women Voters in response to a questionnaire from HD Media.

Q: With the decline in the extraction industries in West Virginia, what do you think should be done to diversify the state’s economy?

A: Our energy resources produced affordable, dependable energy for our people and stable, high-paying jobs for our state. During my term, West Virginia welcomed job growth from companies like Toyota, Facebook, Pietro Fiorentini, Northrup Grumman, Proctor & Gamble, Pratt and Whitney, Hyperloop One, to name a few. I work every day to attract a diversity of jobs to West Virginia.

Q: Do you support recent weakening of EPA regulations concerning air and water quality? Why or why not?

A: West Virginia’s energy policy must balance environmental protection with economic growth in order to encourage innovation, discovery, and prosperity. As governor, I have shown a commitment to ensuring that we are good stewards of our environment while supporting prosperity and growth for West Virginians.

H. Wood “Woody” Thrasher

Education: West Virginia University, bachelor’s degree in civil engineering

Occupation: Chairman of the board of The Thrasher Group

Q: What initiatives would you pursue to diversify West Virginia’s economy?

A: Economic development is my passion. It’s what I’ve done in the private sector and what I did successfully as West Virginia’s Commerce Secretary. To keep it brief, if I had to pick just two measures to enact, it would be to eliminate the business and inventory tax reduction. I’ve heard directly how it penalizes many of our small businesses and keeps them from expanding, like my friends at Oliverio’s Peppers. We needed a strong governor to facilitate early discussions with local stakeholders to ensure they would have been made whole without those funds. I would also facilitate more opportunities for private investors and matching funds to bring broadband to communities, just like I did as commerce secretary, which Terra Alta and Wardensville have used successfully.

Q: We are in the midst of a state and national crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you do to improve response to this or a similar crisis in the future?

A: It’s critical to be on the job every single day, having conversations at the federal and state levels to be able to act proactively in these kinds of crises. A few of my ideas to help stabilize life for folks in West Virginia in this situation are to increase unemployment benefits for anyone who lost a job due to the virus, create a bridge loan program for small businesses hurt by the crisis, provide more child care options for foster families and members of our essential work force, facilitate mortgage payment relief, ensure support for school meal programs and virtual learning, delay the state tax filing date to match the federal extension, waive annual business registration fees, provide tax deductions and credits for any virus-related loss of income to the self-employed and look at regulations to determine what could be waived to reduce the costs of doing business.

Candidate Mike Folk did not return a Gazette-Mail questionnaire. Candidates Shelby Jean Fitzhugh, Doug Six, Brooke Lunsford and Charles Sheedy Sr. either did not return questionnaires or could not be reached by the Gazette-Mail.

Democratic PrimaryBen Salango

Education: West Virginia University, bachelor’s degree and juris doctor

Occupation: Kanawha County commissioner; founder, 304 Tees; attorney and founder, Preston & Salango

Q: What initiatives would you pursue to diversify West Virginia’s economy?

A: On the Kanawha County commission, I have a record of getting things done. I’m running for governor to roll up my sleeves and get results because, after the coronavirus subsides we need to rebuild the economy and our workforce.

The different regions of West Virginia present unique opportunities to attract business and create jobs. I will work with local leaders to create a long-term growth plan for each region.

We must strengthen our workforce by expanding skills training for in-demand fields. This needs to start in middle school and high school.

I took a nine-hole golf course in Kanawha County that was losing money and turned it into a sports complex that now brings in millions of dollars to the Kanawha Valley each year through hosting travel youth sporting events. This project was done on time, on budget and with union labor. I will do the same all over West Virginia.

I will help grow small businesses by adapting the successful formula I developed in Kanawha County that turned the unemployed into entrepreneurs through a loan forgiveness program.

West Virginia needs a governor who works full-time for the people of our state.

Q: We are in the midst of a state and national criPolisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you do to improve response to this or a similar crisis in the future?

A: West Virginia needs new leadership. The time to plan for a crisis isn’t weeks or months after it starts; it’s months and years in advance. We need to make sure our first responders and medical professionals have the tools they need, at all times, not just in a pandemic. West Virginia was caught flat-footed.

As governor, I will make health care a priority by keeping our rural hospitals open and making health care affordable and accessible for West Virginians.

We need a governor who will timely and efficiently roll out the federal assistance West Virginia is going to receive. We can’t have a repeat of the Justice administration’s mismanagement of the flood recovery money under the RISE program. Our small businesses and workers can’t wait years to receive federal relief as we saw in the aftermath of the 2016 flood.

I’m proud to have the endorsement of West Virginia’s professional firefighters, sheriffs, and the labor unions who are keeping our nation running during these difficult times. They’ve seen me in action. West Virginia needs a governor who gets things done.

We’ll get through this. Our people need a leader who can plan for the worst and rebuild our economy when this is over.

Stephen Smith

Education: Harvard University, bachelor’s degree; London School of Economic, master’s degree

Occupation: Children’s advocate

Q: What initiatives would you pursue to diversify West Virginia’s economy?

A: Before the coronavirus crisis, the working people of West Virginia were creating more wealth than at any time in our history. But that wealth wasn’t staying here, and it certainly wasn’t put to use creating the jobs, education, drug treatment and health care systems our families deserve.

To this end, we are the only campaign with detailed plans to fight for broadband access for all; full cannabis legalization; a state bank to finance New Deal-style jobs programs; universal child care, career and technical education, and higher education; and $150 million annually for tax breaks and capital for small businesses and family farms.

We can win this economy once we stop sending all our wealth away. We are the only campaign that supports raising the severance tax, ending corporate tax giveaways that undermine local business and making sure out-of-state land-holding companies aren’t paying less in taxes than you are. We must also finally establish a Corporate Crime and Political Corruption Unit inside the State Police — so white collar criminals no longer roam free.

Read our full plans, and how we pay for them, at wvcantwait.com.

Q: We are in the midst of a state and national crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you do to improve response to this or a similar crisis in the future?

A: The governor has embarrassed our state once again. Only this time, lives are at stake. We can’t wait until Election Day to fight this disease head on.

Our campaign launched a coronavirus resource page (wvcantwait.com/coronavirus) before the state. We put forward a full plan long ago that includes: paid sick days, vote by mail, a full bed inventory, making unemployment benefits available to small businesses, child care and housing protocols, full telehealth and midwife guidelines, statewide testing, and more.

More important, we’re mobilizing neighborhood captains statewide to respond to the crisis. From home, each captain takes responsibility for 100 nearby voters — offering coronavirus resources, guidance on absentee ballot voting and information about candidates. (I’m one of 93 candidates who signed the WV Can’t Wait pledge to reject corporate PAC money and never to cross a picket line.)

Dr. Ron Stollings

Education: West Virginia University bachelor’s degree; Marshall University, M.D.; Residency Internal Medicine at Wake Forrest University

Occupation: Family physician; state senator representing West Virginia’s 7th District

Q: What initiatives would you pursue to diversify West Virginia’s economy?

A: When the coronavirus finally subsides, there will be a lot of work to do. The state will have to repair and expand an already fragile state economy after two large setbacks: coronavirus and opioid crisis.

As governor, I would create the Governor’s Office of Grants and Partnerships. There are tens of millions of dollars in federal grants and funds available through private foundations that West Virginia misses out on every year. Also, there are significant federal grants that are coming to West Virginia in response to the opioid crisis and, now, from the coronavirus, that need better coordination.

We need to invest in additional broadband infrastructure by focusing on the middle and last mile of connectivity. I propose we develop co-ops with businesses to share towers and rural infrastructure. Without broadband, our state will not be able to grow and expand our small business community and attract entrepreneurs.

I support expanding efforts to grow our small business community and attract the country’s best and brightest entrepreneurs. We know that the state has the lifestyle that young entrepreneurs crave. We provide large corporations with tax breaks, grants and loans, we should do the same for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Q: We are in the midst of a state and national crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you do to improve response to this or a similar crisis in the future?

A: Three years ago, against my strong objections, the state Legislature cut funding to county public health departments by 25%. In addition, many of our hospitals are struggling financially, several of them have filed for bankruptcy or have closed. Just recently, Williamson Memorial Hospital announced it was closing. Yet, we are now asking hospitals and our public health system to protect us from what could be the deadliest virus the world has ever seen.

Our first priority is to care for the well-being of our citizen, especially our health care professionals and first responders. Secondly, we must rebuild our state’s public health system. As governor, I would:

  • Fully fund public health and county health department’s budget.
  • Support increased funding for hospitals through Medicaid and PEIA. When a community loses its hospital, it not only loses access to quality health care, but good paying jobs and a significant tax base. And, in a pandemic, like the coronavirus, the region where the hospital resides loses the ability to respond to the health crisis.
  • Establish a stronger supply chain to ensure that we have enough protective gear for our health care workers and first responders.

I believe in attacking the roots to most of our economic and social problems. I want to emphasize early childhood education, addressing children with adverse childhood experiences and trauma, our foster care system, grand families and more. I was able to make significant inroads in many of these area during the 2020 legislative session, including increased funding for foster care, Medicaid, and the coronavirus. This highlights my strong working relationships with people in the majority party.

Jody Murphy

Education: Concord College, bachelor’s degree

Occupation: Fed Ex courier

Q: What initiatives would you pursue to diversify West Virginia’s economy?

A: Incentives to promote the diversification of the state’s economy; sticks and carrots to utilize our extracted raw materials in state for finished goods and production. Raise the severance tax and offer incentives for companies to build facilities in-state. We need a better governor. A better face. A better leader. We need a better salesman to sell the state as a place to live and work to companies interested in relocating, and to areas of the world dealing with economic uncertainty. I have proposed giving industrial land away to lure and attract companies to West Virginia and promoting and developing entrepreneurship to energize and rehab our towns and counties. We have to do things differently, because what we are doing now and have been doing for the past 40 years is not working.

Q: We are in the midst of a state and national crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. What would you do to improve response to this or a similar crisis in the future?

A: Defer to disease and crisis experts. Politicians are way out of their area of expertise in these situations. They should rely on experts to supply them with information and crisis management. Listen to their advice and counsel and take a clear lead in providing direction for state agencies, businesses and citizens. The governor is the face of the state. We need a leader. Someone with some public speaking skills who can provide clear, concise direction from government, not muddled double-talk and half-baked stories and anecdotes. Provide leadership and direction and do it with certainty.