CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Currently, the West Virginia State Senate is void of any Democratic women, but Laura Finch is hoping to change that this November.
“I think that being a woman gives me a unique perspective,” said Finch, the Democratic candidate in District 11. “I hope to be sent to Charleston to represent this district in the same way that the district may elect a man. However, with a unique perspective of compassion, which I think that women can bring to government. Compassion towards the least among us, who are the people most in need of help from government.”
District 11 — the largest senatorial district in any state east of the Mississippi River — is comprised of seven counties in eastern West Virginia, including part of Grant County and all of Nicholas, Upshur, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph and Webster counties.
Finch, a lawyer with her own practice in Pocahontas County, decided to run for political office because she believes many West Virginians are “fed up” with modern day politics.
“I think that folks are generally fed up with having politicians in Charleston who serve the interest of business and not the interest of regular working West Virginians,” she said. “It’s very much my priority to increase worker wages, to phase out the state income tax on social security so that folks can keep more money in their pockets, and I think that’s how we’re going to improve the economy by focusing on the rights of workers and seniors to good government that works for them and not necessarily by incentivizing big businesses.”
Meanwhile, Delegate Bill Hamilton, who defeated incumbent Sen. Robert Karnes in a shocking Republican primary upset earlier this year, has infrastructure as one of his top priorities.
“I think some of the issues that have come up in the 11th Senatorial district are basically the same complaints that people have from Upshur County from the 45th House district, one is the condition of our roads,” Hamilton said. “Of course, we passed the road bond last year, which those bonds went out to market, and now we’ve got some dollars to spend to fix some of these roads and bridges.”
Representing District 45 in the House of Delegates since January 2013, Hamilton says he felt compelled to switch chambers because he wasn’t happy with Karnes, and it resulted in one of the most surprising upsets in May — fueled in part by what was perceived as anti-teacher rhetoric by Karnes during the historic work stoppage.
“I didn’t feel like we were getting the representation in the Senate with our current Senator with his demeanor, the way he treated people, and et cetera,” he said. “I’ve never worked that way. I’ve always been upfront with people. They may have disagreed with me at times, but they always knew where I stood.”
Hamilton, too, believes that the working people of West Virginia are struggling and says he has seen proof of their needs while traveling around the 11th district throughout his campaign.
“Our employment rate is down as well as it is in the nation, and that’s a good thing, but I’ve noticed with trucking companies in traveling the 11th district that most of the trucking companies have signs up that say, ‘Help wanted,’ ‘Needed drivers,’ and et cetera,” he said. “Of course, part of that problem is that a lot of the drivers have quit and relocated to the pipelines driving for them.”
In Pocahontas County, he said, the Senior Center is in desperate need of food delivery trucks.
“The Senior Center director has told me that they’ve got 135,000 to 150,000 miles on them, and they need to be replaced,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got to find the revenue to do that because that’s a very rural county, and then they have the same problem in Webster County. They go over some very treacherous roads in these two counties.”
Unfortunately, financial hardship isn’t the only challenge facing those in District 11.
Those counties, as with much of West Virginia, have been hit hard by the drug epidemic.
Finch works as a court-appointed attorney — so she’s often on the “front lines” of the substance abuse crisis in Pocahontas County.
“I see it as is a crisis of opportunity and also an absolute need for quality healthcare because unless we provide these young people with opportunities, they won’t have any hope to dissuade them from substance abuse,” she said. “And unless we provide them with quality healthcare that is affordable and accessible to all, we won’t be able to address the medical problem, which is the addiction.”
Hamilton believes that the problem is two-fold — stiffer penalties for dealers and rehabilitation options for addicts.
“The addicts are not the problem, it’s the dealers, and we’ve passed some legislation in the past couple years dealing with more penalties for people that deal drugs and et cetera,” he said. “But we’ve got to find places where we can do some drug rehab out here in the communities. We’ve got to get these people off the ones that want to go into a rehab facility, and it takes revenue to do that.”
Fortunately, District 11 is seeing options. The former U.S. Navy base at Sugar Grove in Pendleton County is being transformed into “The Highlands at Sugar Grove” — a 95-bed in-patient facility run by Highland Hospital out of Charleston.
“Which is an excellent idea, but it’s a drop in the bucket to face it,” Hamilton said.
That’s why Finch wants to help give young West Virginians more opportunities.
“I think that folks in the district want to see more opportunity for young people, especially so that their kids and grandkids can stay here in West Virginia and build their lives here,” she said. “We have to find creative ways to improve our economy but also common sense ways, and to me that includes increasing the minimum wages and eliminating that state income tax on social security.”
As a lawyer, Finch works daily to ensure that my clients are treated fairly, and she said that she’ll do the same for her constituency, if elected.
“I can’t promise to fix everything, but I can promise to listen and to be an advocate just as I am in my professional life already and always endeavor to do the right thing,” she said. “I want to be a fresh voice for this district and fight for the district in Charleston to be able to get the good government that we deserve.”