Saturday’s gubernatorial forum provided an opportunity-albeit limited-to see the three Democratic candidates on stage together.  You can read about it and watch it here.

Here’s what stood out to me:

Senator Jeff Kessler provided the most specifics.  He made clear over and over he believes that government should play a larger role in trying to improving the lives of state residents, particularly in the area of economic development.  “Government can serve as a stimulus,” he said.

He called for higher taxes—specifically a $1 cigarette tax and he also alluded to higher alcohol taxes—to help solve the state’s budget crisis, fund community college scholarships and pay for additional substance abuse programs.  “Anybody that’s up here on this stage that thinks we can fix this budget crisis without some additional revenue is not telling you the truth.”

Jim Justice was short on specifics, but strong on passion, particularly as it relates to economic development.  “If I’m your governor I’ll take you on a rocket jobs ride you will never believe,” Justice said.  “Buckle up.”

He also differentiated himself from Kessler on the economy and the state’s budget problems.  “I’ll promise you that raising the cigarette tax… is not going to cover everything,” he said.  “You’ve got to be able to grow revenue… without taxing, taxing, taxing.”

But how?

Justice relied on his experience as a businessman.  “It’s going to take somebody that’s done it,” adding that he has spent $300 million of his own money to save the Greenbrier Resort.   “I can turn it (the state) around and I can do it now,” he said.

Booth Goodwin was also short on specifics on how to resolve the state’s worsening budget problems, saying he would employ his skills as a trained investigator—he’s a former U.S. Attorney—to conduct a top to bottom review of state spending.

Goodwin also used that question to take a jab at Justice, saying if elected he would cut any state taxpayer support of the Greenbrier Resort.  “I wouldn’t give $2 million to operate a golf tournament,” he said.  “(The money) could be used to eliminate income tax for our veterans’ retirements. Those are easy choices.”

The forum, while helpful for voters, suffered from the format.  The three reporters who asked questions were limited to two questions each and did not have an opportunity to follow-up.  Moderator Ashton Marra got to ask each one question, but they were along the same line (addressing criticisms that have been directed to them) so there were really only seven questions in the entire forum, along with opening and closing statements.

Goodwin said at the beginning “We needed more of these events,” and he’s right.  Many of the answers given Saturday only prompted more questions.

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