One of two Democrats on the ballot in West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District soon will be the challenger to Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., in the general election.
Natalie Cline was born in Parkersburg and now teleworks as a computational linguist for a software company based in Washington, D.C. She said her company assists law enforcement officials by using data to gather information on crimes such as terrorism, illicit drugs and money laundering.
Tom Payne was raised in Keyser and is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Payne later served as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer overseeing legal military affairs and worked as an attorney and business consultant in the private and public sectors.
Health care is the No. 1 issue for Cline, she said. There are many facets to improving care, and the first starts with moving to Medicare for All, the platform championed by former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., she said.
“We need to make sure, that when we’re talking about health care reform, that we ensure mental health and rehabilitation programs are covered in full,” Cline said.
Access to mental health care for children, specifically, is a part of what Cline calls the Family Reinvestment Act, or series of bills written with the toll of the opioid epidemic in mind, she said.
The federal government would provide funding to open and maintain medical facilities and food banks in areas stricken by the opioid epidemic, while helping public schools increase access to mental health counseling and medical staff at schools. The act also would call for operating food banks and offering personal hygiene products to students in need, Cline said.
“To many of our kids affected by this crisis, the only time that they get to see a medical professional is when they are at school,” she said.
Cline said part of her work, if elected to Congress, would be closing loopholes for private companies to gut hospitals for resources and abandoning communities that need them. Four hospitals in the 1st District, all owned by one company, were closed in the past six months, she said.
What maddens Cline the most, she said, is the lack of outrage or acknowledgment from the state’s elected officials.
“There has not been an adequate response from our current representation, and not only that, but our current representation is not doing anything in the House to propose any additional policies that could prevent this from happening in the future.”
Payne said, right now, the employer model for health insurance is beneficial for most, but he believes a shift toward single-payer might come eventually.
“If we go right now for a single-payer system, it will be disruptive to the citizens that have it through their employer. They tend to like that, I think ... nobody likes change, [but] I think we can move over to a single-payer, but slowly over time,” Payne said.
In Congress, it’s all about who you know, Payne said. A West Point classmate and friend of Payne’s is Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is the ranking member on the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Through military connections, Payne said, he also has personal relationships with Democrat Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut; he also named a number of House of Representative members as friends.
“To be valuable as a congressperson, you need to have personal relationships with the current members of Congress,” Payne said. “The West Virginia congressional contingent has no real power; none. I don’t see any of them in management. I don’t see them doing anything for West Virginia at all, other than just regular stuff.”
Payne supports lowering current federal and state income taxes on people making less than $50,000 or families making less than $100,000. For those going to technical school, Payne said he’d like to see federal investments in paid apprenticeship training, to lessen debts for young adults.
For people recovering from addiction, Payne said that, while stationed overseas, he thought Switzerland and the Netherlands had effective programs for treatment. He said centers knew up front it would be a costly long-term commitment.
“They accepted people were going to be in and out ... their goal in those programs was to keep the people alive, and if they can do that, then they would be successful,” he said.
Payne said he also supports appropriating federal money for high-speed broadband connectivity across the United States. He said that, without reliable internet, the 1st District will have a tougher time convincing businesses to move there.
Cline said she’s working on a proposal for broadband expansion. The idea isn’t new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the district’s desperate need for it, she said.
“Our federal government should be championing broadband as a utility,” she said.
To prevent elected officials from looking the other way at actions or inactions by corporations, Cline said she supports overhauling current campaign finance laws.
“We need to do campaign finance reform to prevent candidates from taking these large amounts of corporate cash,” she said.
Communication between the state’s current representatives and voters has been lackluster, Cline said, and legislators have been taking their districts for granted. That’s one thing that will change if elected, said Cline, who, during the campaign, has met voters virtually one-on-one to hear concerns.
Payne said his experience and connections make him fit to serve the 1st District. Although he hasn’t called West Virginia home his entire life, because of serving in the military and relocating afterward, Payne said he will get critical infrastructure built in the northern region of the state.
“I’m not young, but I look at that as a strength,” he said. “I just want to help West Virginia to do what it’s capable of doing, what I know it’s capable of doing; we just haven’t been doing it.”