I was raised by a single mother. She struggled with cancer for five years and died when I was 17. The people of my hometown of Madison supported me throughout my mother’s illness and after she passed away. They provided me with jobs and scholarships to help pay for my college education and medical school.
They asked me for one thing in return — that I come back to my hometown to practice medicine for three years. I’ve never left.
During high school, I mowed lawns, painted houses and worked at Handley Funeral Home. During college summers, I worked in the coal mines.
I went to college at West Virginia University, medical school at Marshall University and completed my residency in internal medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. I returned to my hometown to care for the community that embraced and supported me as a teenager.
I have served as a primary care doctor for 34 years and as a state senator for 13 years. I’ve witnessed the daily struggles of West Virginians. I’ve been on the front lines during the substance-use crisis and I see how it is affecting our health, education system and our economy.
Businesses are finding it difficult to hire quality, drug-free employees.
Our family unit has been shattered as many of our children have lost one or both of their parents. They are being raised by grandparents or other family members.
Many children face obstacles (living conditions, hunger, etc.) before they even show up for school.
Our health care and recovery system and first responders have been pushed to the limit because we don’t have the resources to handle the large numbers of people seeking help.
I worry about so many children in our state. We have 10,000 homeless children, 7,000 foster children and 300 children who are missing.
We need to invest in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, as we know that’s critical in their future ability to learn.
Next, we need to invest in education and value our educators. Not only do educators and school service personnel teach our children, but, in many cases, they make sure these children are not hungry and that they have a caring adult in their life. What happens between 3 p.m. and 7 a.m. is critical to a student’s ability to learn. Studies show having a certified teacher in the classroom, smaller class sizes and parental involvement will help improve education outcomes.
We need to make sure West Virginians have access to quality, affordable health care, including oral health and mental health care.
As I travel the state, I am struck by the different challenges and opportunities that each region faces. I consistently hear employers say they need qualified, reliable, drug-free employees. I understand that not only do we need a statewide strategy for economic growth but we need different, regional strategies for economic development.
We must continue to explore and capitalize on the incredible opportunities in technology to grow West Virginia’s knowledge sector and digital economy. We must continue to invest in infrastructure, including broadband.
In addition, research is critically important to diversifying our economy. One area of research that is showing great promise is “rare earth elements.” Electric car motors, iPhones, military jet engines, batteries and satellites all require rare-earth elements to function. West Virginia has enormous deposits of these elements throughout our state. We can establish manufacturing facilities here and create good-paying jobs in a new and expanding industry.
We need to keep our young people and recruit others with good-paying jobs and a great quality of life. I’ve established an advisory group of talented young individuals to offer innovative ideas on how to diversify our state and make it an attractive place to stay or to relocate.
Our best days are ahead of us. We can and must come together as a state, but I can’t do it without each of you. I invite you to learn more about my campaign for governor at www.StollingsforWestVirginia.com and on Facebook at Stollings for West Virginia.
It’s time for new leadership. One based on better ideas and not one based on a bigger pocketbook.