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Salango challenges Justice to have up to five debates

CHARLESTON — Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, the Democratic candidate for governor, wants to have as many as five regional debates. Gov. Jim Justice believes one is enough.

During a virtual press conference with reporters Friday morning, Salango said he accepted debate invites from five groups and news outlets. These include WSAZ-TV, Nexstar Media, the Stubblefield Institute at Shepherd University in partnership with WRNR/TV10 Martinsburg and WCHS-TV/WTOV-TV.

“Gov. Justice and I have a lot to discuss,” Salango said. “West Virginians deserve real leadership. They need a governor who will actually answer questions and who won’t continually dodge and duck questions from the media.

Both Justice and Salango already accepted invites for the West Virginia Broadcasters Association debate on Oct. 13, but Salango wants to have debates in different regions of the state. Roman Stauffer, campaign manager for Justice, called Salango’s press conference a “political stunt.”

“We were the first to accept the West Virginia Broadcasters Association debate, which will be broadcast statewide, and every West Virginian will have an opportunity to see the difference between Gov. Justice and Ben Salango,” Stauffer said.

“Today’s political stunt is no surprise after polling this week shows that Ben Salango is losing this race by big numbers,” Stauffer said. “It’s not uncommon when a candidate is losing, and voters learn about their views to want to change the subject.”

Salango accused Justice of using his statewide virtual coronavirus briefings as a campaign tool, all while using the guise of transparency to be less transparent and avoiding direct interaction with the press.

“Since the Justice administration took over, he has made it a point to make the office less transparent to the media and to the public,” Salango said. “His COVID-19 press conferences have turned into political rallies where he promotes his re-election. He provides inaccurate information and selects which reporters get to ask questions and then dodges the ones he doesn’t want to answer.”

Salango said he wants to put Justice on the record about the last three years of his administration, as well as more recent controversies. These include the lawsuit brought by FirstEnergy Solutions against one of his companies as the same company sought a tax break for its Pleasants Power Plant, the issues over testing delays and reporting, the state’s handling of an COVID-19 outbreak at a Mercer County nursing home and the handling of C.A.R.E.S. Act funding.

“We need a public debate and discussion about these issues,” Salango said. “We need to talk about his ideas versus my ideas, his actions versus my actions. This needs to take place in a public forum where he can’t hide from the public and where he can’t dodge questions from the media.”

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