Candidates speak at Lincoln Dinner
ELKINS — Republican candidates in the May 8 primary election were given the opportunity to speak during the Randolph County Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday evening at the Elks Club.
The keynote speaker was West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, who spoke about the 2014 midterm elections, in which the balance of political power in West Virginia shifted from Democrat to Republican control.
“We took 83 years and turned it around,” Leonhardt said. “I’m very glad to have been a part of that change. In 2016, we piled it on a little bit. … Now it’s 2018. Sometimes when you’re trying to keep gaining ground you have to be careful you don’t lose the ground you’ve got. So I’m going to ask you all to work just as hard as you did in 2014 and 2016 this year in 2018. Not only do we want to keep from losing ground, but we want to continue gaining ground.
“Lots of work to do. We’re still losing our youth. I’ve heard estimates of up to 40 a day. You can’t turn an economy around if you keep losing that kind of brain trust, these educated kids,” he said.
Responding to an audience member’s question, Leonhardt said he was in discussions with the state Department of Corrections to bring back the practice of having Huttonsville Correctional Center inmates grow crops on the land around the prison to help feed the prisoners.
“I’m trying to bring that back to where it once was,” he said. “They’d be tireder, there wouldn’t be as much trouble (in the prison). They’d be growing their own food, and the technology has changed. Now the excess could be flash frozen and stored.”
Also during Saturday’s dinner, Deborah Super was named the Randolph County Republican of the Year.
Super was a teacher for 43 years, retiring in 2015. She also served as an adjunct professor at Davis & Elkins College, Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community College
“This is such a big honor and I really appreciate it,” Super said after being surprised with the award. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The award was presented by Philipps Kolsun, a former student of Super’s.
Several local candidates spoke during the dinner, including state Sen. Robert Karnes, R-11th District, who is seeking re-election. Karnes noted he had spoken at the 2014 Randolph County Lincoln Day Dinner.
“Across the state of West Virginia, for the first time in 84 years, we turned West Virginia from a Democrat state to a Republican state that year. That’s to your credit,” he told the crowd.
“We’re creating new jobs in West Virginia. We’ve created 3,500 new jobs in the last year alone, net new jobs … thousands of jobs in the coal industry, thousands of jobs in the timber industry, construction’s adding new jobs. At times last year, in some quarters, we were the second fastest-growing state in the country, second only to Texas. When’s West Virginia ever had that? It’s really been decades since West Virginia’s seen something like that.”
Karnes’ Republican challenger, Delegate Bill Hamilton, R-45th District, also spoke at the dinner. Hamilton is the Assistant Majority Whip in the state House of Delegates.
“If I’m elected I’ll continue to work for a better West Virginia by growing the economy for everyone, not just for a select few,” Hamilton said. “I’d like to find a solution to the opioid epidemic, and I’d like to work on improving our infrastructure, like we did last year when we passed the road bond, which is going to build and repair a lot of bridges and roads in our state.
“You, the voters, have to do your due diligence. You have to check records. I’ve made over 10,000 votes in the House of Delegates. Every one of them’s recorded on a legislative website.”
Two Republican challengers for the two District 43 delegate seats spoke Saturday.
Mike House is the pastor of Ambassador Baptist Church and the administrator of Ambassador Christian Academy. He has a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling, and has served as a mental health counselor at Huttonsville Correctional Center.
“This nation has to return to God,” House said. “This nation has to return to the foundation that made this nation great. And as a pastor, as a Christian, as a man of God, when I go to Charleston I’ll not change where I stand on the issues I’ve stood for for many years.
“Smaller government with accountability is important. With the addictions issue, intervention with resolution is necessary. We can have intervention but if there’s not a goal of resolution, it doesn’t do any good,” he said. “God and country, faith and family. That’s my platform.”
Ty Nestor, a Randolph County attorney, is also a Republican challenger in the 43rd District.
“I believe that we have some real problems, and that we’re at a critical stage, and if we don’t make some maneuvers to improve our economy, we’re going to be in real, real trouble down the line,” Nestor said. “For example, I did some research and learned that the tallest building in West Virginia is our state capitol. When you have the tallest building in your entire state is the primary government building, you have a real issue. It just shows that since June 20, 1863, our legislators, session in and session out, have done nothing to try to rejuvenate and reinvigorate this economy.
“We’re a poor state but we’re rich in natural resources. Right now we’re standing on millions of dollars in natural gas,” Nestor said. “The decisions of the upcoming legislature are going to be critical … if we don’t seize the opportunity, it will put us on track for irreversible economic decline. Or we can steer the ship in the right direction and start moving it in the economic of longterm economic prosperity.”
Three non-partisan candidates for the Randolph County Board of Education spoke Saturday.
Donna Auvil, an incumbent on the Randolph BOE, said, “I think we have made a lot of progress, especially in the last year and a half. We are building onto George Ward Elementary School, we are building a new cafeteria and kitchen at Beverly (Elementary School) with two classrooms. We’ve put a lot of money into Coalton (Elementary School), there’ll be air-conditioning there and heating.
“We’ve put roofs on schools. In Harman (School), we’ve put a good bit of money. This fall we’ll be applying for an MIP, a major improvement grant, to put a new roof on Elkins High School,” she said. “I just want you all to think about this: Education is the first step for every career.”
Melodee Price, a Board of Education challenger, formerly worked for Youth Health Services and the West Virginia Head Start program.
Price noted during the dinner that last year she was presented with the Citizen of the Year award from the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce for her work with the Elkins Make It Shine program.
“I would organize different clean-up events at schools,” she said. “I felt we are lacking in what a lot of the other counties have, and I wanted to help the school system to raise the bar. I think we’ve just accepted this way of life here in Randolph County and I just want to help make a positive change. … Together we can make a brighter future for our students and make Randolph County shine.”
Lisa Wamsley is also a Board of Education incumbent.
“I have served on the board for the past 12 years,” Wamsley said. “Here in Randolph County, fortunately, the teachers, the bus drivers, the cooks, all service personnel, they all support children. That’s why I’m on the board. I support children and the staff.
“I think that school provides stability. And as we’ve heard this evening, there is a crisis. Not only in our community, but our state. School is a safe haven. … I’m happy to say that serving on the board has allowed me to see just how much the students really do have. I’d like to continue that.”
Don Blankenship, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, attended the Randolph County dinner, but left before the speaking began, as he was also scheduled to attend a Lincoln Day Dinner in Doddridge County Saturday evening.
Other Republican candidates for Senate who did not appear but sent a representative to the meeting included Congressman Evan Jenkins, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Tom Willis.
Incumbent Congressman Alexander Mooney, R-2nd District, was represented by Rhett Dusenbury.