CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mudslinging is not in the campaign playbooks for the two West Virginia Senate candidates in the 8th District, which covers parts of northern Kanawha County and Putnam County, leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
“I wish we could be the example for some of the other races that I see,” said state Senator Ed Gaunch (R-Kanawha, 08) of his re-election bid against Richard Lindsay, the Charleston attorney and Democrat who’s challenging him.
“He’s a good man,” Lindsay said of Gaunch. “I’m a good and decent man. He’s a man of faith and I’m a man of faith. It’s just that we have two different visions.”
In recent weeks, Gaunch has been the target of negative ads from West Virginia Patriots for Liberty, a political action committee that’s operated independently of the two campaigns in the 8th District.
Some of its largest donors include IUOE Local 132, Engineers PAC, the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Foundation and the West Virginia AFL-CIO, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The candidates themselves talked with MetroNews prior to the start of the West Virginia Supreme Court impeachment trials in the state Senate beginning with the trial of Justice Beth Walker on Oct. 1.
Gaunch sat as a member of the Senate jury.
“We were thrust into this by the actions of the House and, yes, it’s quite a weighty responsibility, one I take very seriously,” he said.
“Not only do you have the members of our highest court in the state in limbo, you have the whole state in limbo and the whole nation watching, so it’s important for us to do a good job.”
Lindsay said suspended Justice Allen Loughry should have been put on trial in the Senate first, not last under the current schedule. Loughry’s Senate trial was scheduled for Nov. 12, the week after the November General Election.
“He was the touchstone to everything else that’s followed,” Lindsay said. “Even if you take politics out of it for a second, you line up all of the justices, he is the more egregious actor.”
Gaunch, the chair of the state Senate Government Organization Committee, is seeking a 2nd term.
“Being an incumbent, I believe, is an advantage. I know how the process works now. I find myself in a position of leadership. I think I can add value to the citizens of the 8th District and get things done,” he said.
Gaunch grew up in Boone County and graduated from West Virginia State University. He retired as president and CEO of the Carson Insurance Agency after four decades in the insurance business. He and his wife, Marilyn, have two children and five grandchildren.
The first run for political office for Gaunch came four years ago when he beat incumbent Senator Erik Wells who was seeking re-election. “I had an uphill battle,” Gaunch said of that race.
As he seeks re-election, Gaunch said his “No. 1 priority” is identifying ways to reverse the opioid epidemic.
This race is Lindsay’s 3rd campaign in pursuit of a position in the Legislature.
Lindsay previously ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 state Senate Democratic primary for the 8th District against Wells. In 2014, he was a Democratic candidate for the 37th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
During this year’s May primary, he was nominated for the state Senate after beating out Mark Hunt, a former long-time state House of Delegates member with a lot of name recognition, by just more than 300 votes.
Born and raised in Charleston where he works with the law firm of Tabor Lindsay and Associates with his dad, Dr. Richard Lindsay, Lindsay and his wife, Allison, have two children.
When it comes to the opioid crisis, Lindsay said more money for drug treatment could be generated by taxing pharmaceutical companies for the pills distributed in West Virginia.
Both Lindsay and Gaunch used the word “promise” in describing the Public Employees Insurance Agency, the provider of health insurance for the state’s public employees and retirees.
As for the performance of the Republican serving in West Virginia’s Governor’s Office, Governor Jim Justice, Gaunch said this:
“I don’t want to second-guess the people who elected him. He was elected by the people of West Virginia and I know he has a very difficult job,” Gaunch said. “I’d like to see more visible.”
Lindsay echoed those comments about Governor Justice.
“I do think that and believe in the idea that in order to run the state, you have to be present, just like in order to run a company you have to be present. You can’t just do it from the sidelines,” Lindsay said.
“I think that, if that is the case, then it’s even more important for our leadership in the state Legislature, including my opponent Ed Gaunch, to take a more active role in making sure that things are done.”
Lindsay said that was not done in the case of RISE West Virginia, the long-term state flood recovery program that stalled for months until Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state adjutant general, was appointed to oversee the response to the June 2016 Flood.
The 8th Senatorial District covers some of the hardest hit areas including Clendenin.
“Even Senator Gaunch has admitted that there wasn’t enough oversight,” Lindsay said.
Views of what role state government has in the lives of West Virginians are at the heart of the differences between the two.
“Government has to work for all the people,” said Lindsay, who sees ways members of the Legislature can more actively support the people they represent.
“I consider myself more a candidate of action, recognizing that there is a role of oversight for the Legislature that the Legislature’s failed on.”
But Gaunch, who described himself as “doer,” has argued government does not create the jobs the Mountain State needs to thrive and, instead, can impede growth in some cases. Occupational licensing requirements are one area he’s targeted for reforms.
The 8th District is home to Toyota and, Gaunch said, there’s no reason why other large companies could not follow its success.
“You hear a lot of people say, ‘Our geography is our enemy.’ We have narrow valleys and not a lot of flat land,” he said.
“But if you drive the 8th Senatorial District — from Rand to Buffalo on the north side of the Kanawha River — you will see lots of areas that could be redeveloped or developed into nice pieces of property.”
Statewide, Lindsay said the economic upswings in West Virginia’s economy are in “pockets,” surrounding either natural gas development or the Roads To Prosperity highway construction program.
“It’s not filtering through to the masses,” he said. “It’s not filtering through to the people and so it’s incumbent upon the leadership to say, ‘Well, what can we do to improve everyone’s lives?'”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Early voting ahead of Election Day begins on Oct. 24.