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House District 16 (Cabell, Lincoln) candidates sketch legislative plans

October 31, 2018

HUNTINGTON - Three Democrats and three Republicans are vying for three spots to represent the 16th District of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Democrats Sean Hornbuckle, Matt Spurlock and Dakota Nelson face off against Republicans Daniel Linville, Vera Miller and John Mandt Jr. in the upcoming general election.

One of the larger districts, the 16th District encompasses eastern Cabell County, excluding most of Barboursville, parts of Huntington including Marshall University, and a portion of Lincoln County.

The race has two incumbents, Hornbuckle and Linville.

Hornbuckle, a Huntington financial adviser, is finishing out his second term in the House. He said he has proven he can work in a bipartisan fashion and he is the right person at the right time for the district.

“I’ve made tremendous sacrifices staying in this area, probably professionally and even politically, but I’m a Huntington person and I want to see it do well,” Hornbuckle said. “I also know we’ve had some missteps along the way. We have to have better people involved and better people in leadership.”

Hornbuckle said his No. 1 priority is education, from higher education down. Relating to higher education, he said the state is at a crossroads in terms of funding. He said the state must seriously look at the higher education institutions and see if any efficiencies can be made, but he would only support closing a university if a plan is in place to replace the jobs that would be lost by such a closure.

As for public education, he said it starts with taking care of public employees across the board. Hornbuckle said he wants schools to think globally, teaching a second language and how other cultures work, as well as expanding workforce simulations/internship programs in high schools and even earlier. He specifically highlighted Lincoln County High School’s workforce program that provides “real, tangible experiences.” He said an incentive could be given to businesses that participate in area schools.

Economic development is also a big priority for Hornbuckle. He said the state needs to find a way to attract businesses here. One way to do that is to open our arms to the disenfranchised - women and people of color - who are already leading the nation in entrepreneurship.

Linville, a Milton IT director for his family’s business, was appointed to represent the 16th District in August by Gov. Jim Justice following the resignation of Chuck Romine, who moved out of the district. He said he decided to run because he was tired of watching the state backslide and people leave.

“We’ve got a lot of healing to do between the state legislators - especially my party - and educators,” Linville said. “I think we are making steps toward that, but there are a lot of things that went wrong in the last session.”

Linville said jobs and economic development are his two main concerns. He has a diversification plan that he says House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, likes. Similar to a program in Colorado, Linville’s plan would give a four-year tax break to new industries. To be approved for the tax break, the new industry would have to pass a public comment period to prove it is not disadvantaging an existing business or industry in the state.

With economic development, broadband capabilities are paramount. Linville said there are so many new technologies to deliver internet access, including in the air. He said increasing competition in the broadband sector will be good, and he will be the candidate who understands that.

Linville said he would also like to change the way schools are evaluated, moving away from standardized tests and more on the real outcomes of the students. He said the goal of education is to prepare students for the next level, and schools should be judged on how many of their students graduate and continue on to higher education, employment or the armed forces.

Spurlock, a Huntington accountant, said he wants to continue to build upon the success the state and district already have.

“Take downtown, for instance. Once we take the folks who say ‘no’ out of the way, we can be successful,” Spurlock said. “We take what Dr. (Joe) Touma has done, what Marshall has done, and as a legislator I can go to those folks and say, ‘What do you need to be more successful?’”

First, Spurlock said, infrastructure needs to be developed. He said it is too difficult to get here, and he would like to work with Ohio and Kentucky to get a high-speed rail line to Cincinnati. From there, the state needs to advertise itself better.

Spurlock said the state needs to look at what’s good beyond natural resources. Much like Pittsburgh used to be a steel town and is now pivoting to technology, West Virginia needs to do the same. He said the Huntington area can become a research hub that could rival the Cleveland Clinic.

Regarding education, Spurlock said teachers need to be supported and allowed to teach without worrying about changing standards. He said the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) needs a solution, and he supports a severance tax on natural gas being dedicated to the insurance program, as well as eliminating the private prescription manager.

Mandt, the owner of Stewarts Original Hot Dogs in Huntington, said he feels he can make a difference at the state level by researching all the facts before he casts a vote.

“It’s part of being smart and using your people skills and personal resources,” Mandt said. “I want people to feel involved and that their opinion matters. I’m there to represent everybody.”

A business owner, Mandt said job development is a priority. He said he wants to see jobs that provide a living wage and supports expanding trade schools. He is not in favor of raising minimum wage to $15 an hour, as it would hurt businesses like his, and he thinks those minimum-wage jobs should be a steppingstone to something better. However, he would support raising minimum wage on a scale, which would help businesses better prepare for the rising costs.

The husband of a teacher, education and PEIA are also priorities for Mandt. He said he wants to see a sustainable solution to PEIA, and he supports bidding the insurance program to a private company, stating government should not be in the business of insurance.

The opioid crisis is also a priority. He said the needle exchange program needs to be reworked and shouldn’t just be a revolving door. Mandt said he supports proven recovery efforts and said a good job will go a long way in helping by making people feel successful.

Nelson, a Huntington community organizer with a political science degree from Marshall University, said he wants to be a representative that is accountable to the people and gives power back to the people.

“When you start asking why and are lucky enough to have a little bit of an education, you realize a forgotten truth, which is, ‘This is ours,’ and there is tremendous power in saying that out loud,” Nelson said.

Nelson said when the economy is thriving but only 1 percent of the population feels the success, that’s not OK. He wants to ensure that companies pay workers a living wage, which will lessen the strain on the government. He also supports taxing natural resources leaving the state and using those funds to support social programs that pull people out of poverty.

Nelson also supports broadband initiatives. Like Linville, he said it could be distributed through the air. Nelson also wants to look into ways to get internet to those in poverty who cannot afford it.

He also wants to change education in West Virginia. Nelson said he wants education to address the “human condition” and issues that affect residents of West Virginia. He said the current system is training students for a workforce that existed decades ago, not today.

Miller, of Ona, is a music teacher at Milton Middle School and said she decided to run because she was tired of representatives not representing their constituents, but personal or special interests.

“I put the issues before my own personal issues, and I have no problem sitting down with people and having a conversation,” Miller said. “I’m a Republican running, but we have a leadership problem at the Capitol. I said that 10 years ago when it was the Democrats. It boils down to you have three to five people who have a stronghold.”

Miller said she is pro-public education, for a diverse economy and safer, cleaner towns. If elected, she would also introduce legislation regarding campaign finance reform, wanting to put a limit on large donations and have more transparency. She said the argument is people wouldn’t be able to run, but she says with reform, everyone would be able to run for office.

She said PEIA needs to be a priority, especially with how many people in the state it serves. She said she first wants to look at what money is already on hand and can be appropriated. Miller said she isn’t sure privatization is the right way to go, and while she is never in favor of raising taxes, she would support a severance tax on natural resources if it came to that. She said the average West Virginian is already overtaxed.

Another priority is infrastructure. Miller said along with the roads, broadband needs to be a priority. She said it will take an investment but the return on that investment is great. The roads, bridges and even electrical lines all could be improved, she said.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Early voting is ongoing.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.