Of the 17 West Virginia State Senate races to be decided Nov. 6, 16 are contested. The following is part of a series of stories brought to you by the MetroNews team.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — No matter who is elected to represent District 10 in the West Virginia Senate, it will be their first time elected to the chamber.
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, began serving in October 2017 after being appointed in light of then-Sen. Ron Miller’s resignation.
Baldwin had the race on his mind, however, prior to the appointment.
“I had decided to seek the Senate seat, and then there ended up being a vacancy,” said Baldwin, who began serving in the House of Delegates in 2017.
“People had told me the House and the Senate are worlds apart even though they are just down the hall from each other,” he added. “Everything in the Senate moves much faster. You have a larger area you have to represent, you have more responsibilities, more committee assignments. You have to keep up with all that.”
As for Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, he has three terms in the House to point to regarding his legislative experience.
“I just felt that we, in the last four years, just wasn’t getting the representation that I felt that was needed to help move our state forward,” he said.
“I don’t think we’re exploring the state’s opportunities that we have in terms of the economy of change, the idea of being able to attract business and enhance interests for businesses to come in. We’re just now starting to see something, but I think we’re behind on it.”
District 10 includes Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office reports around 47 percent of residents are Democrats, compared to less than 28 percent who are registered Republicans.
Baldwin and Ambler share similar thoughts regarding the economy; both men agree the state has been showing strength in recent years.
“I think the road bond has had a positive influence. The pay raise for public employees has had a positive influence on the economy and income taxes. There are things to celebrate,” Baldwin said.
Ambler, a former school teacher, said while he and other Republicans had doubts about Gov. Jim Justice — even after Justice became a Republican in August 2017 — the state is moving forward under his leadership.
“We’re on a full head of steam down the track to bring West Virginia into prominency that we lost over 84 years of leadership on the other side running things,” he said.
Ambler continued, pointing to right-to-work as putting West Virginia “at the table” for companies to consider.
“What we have done over the last couple years is that we’ve brought some hope to these young people that they can come back. We are and have changed the atmosphere of what business looks like in West Virginia,” he said.
WorkForce West Virginia reported last month the state’s unemployment rate is 5.2 percent, lagging behind the national rate of 3.7 percent.
“My mother — bless her soul — always said, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,'” Ambler said. “We’re not going to reverse all of the situations that we had prior in two, three, four years. What we have done is started taking away those stumbling blocks to business that were in place and opening better opportunity for businesses to grow here in West Virginia.”
Baldwin, a minister, said the state’s employment problems stem in part from the opioid crisis.
“Employers have a really hard time finding really good folks that are trained, that can pass a drug test and are going to be reliable showing up to work every day,” he said.
“Our child poverty rate is 25.5 percent. That’s one out of every four kids we pass on the street living in poverty, and my heart breaks to think that is still a reality,” he added.
Baldwin also pointed to increasing broadband service and workforce training as necessary steps to boost southern West Virginia’s economy.
Baldwin and Ambler said tourism is the key economic driver and something both men want to fully utilize.
“We need to sit down with the resources we have, and I’m talking about the human resources in each one of the counties,” Ambler said. “You’re not going to see anything with gas drilled here. We’re going to have pipelines to move it through us.”
Baldwin said one of the issues he hears most as an elected official and political candidate regards the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“The Task Force has not come forward with recommendations yet, so it looks like it’ll be later this year before it happens if it happens,” he said.
Baldwin noted the need for a stable funding source.
“One (idea) that has not gotten much attention that I think is viable is a tiered severance tax. It was actually proposed by the governor during budget negotiations in 2017,” he said. “I think because there was so much going on, it didn’t get the attention it deserves.
“If we tier the severance tax so that extraction companies pay more when they’re doing well but pay less when times were tough, then it allows it to be a more stable revenue source over the long term as opposed to having the same rate no matter if times are good or bad and expecting people to make it work.”
As for Ambler, he is leaving the future of PEIA up to the Task Force, which has to present its findings and recommendations on the state insurance plan before the Legislature’s interim meetings in December.
“Most of what I hear (from constituents) is let’s keep the economy growing,” he said. “With the economy growing, everything else does what? It comes along with it.”
Ambler added he wants to be active in politics to help the state’s economy grow, promising bipartisanship if elected.
“My ability to walk across the aisle and talk not only to those in Hosue but those down at the Senate, and get into the governor’s office … I think these are things that I bring to the 10th District that are very important to us,” he said.
Baldwin called being elected to the House in 2016 an honor and serving as a lawmaker something he takes seriously.
“I’ve only done it for two years, but I’ve been honored to be able to serve folks, and I’d be honored to continue to serve folks if voters so choose,” he said.