MADISON W.Va. — Ron Stollings, the Democratic state senator of southern West Virginia’s 7th Senate District, has served three terms and has not had much trouble getting reelected.
Republican candidate Jason Stephens is hoping to buck that trend and take his seat as Stollings seeks a fourth term.
The 7th Senate District covers all of Boone, Lincoln and Logan counties, and part of Mingo and Wayne counties.
State senator since 2006, incumbent Stollings is an internal medicine and geriatric doctor in Madison, where he was born and raised. He has a great affinity for the area he has served.
“I have an interest in this place that I love and call home,” he said. “I want it to prosper. I want my neighbors to be prosperous. I want my seniors to have all the things that they need. I love taking care of my own people.”
Stephens, a small business owner in Wayne and Huntington, has a farm in Wayne and has lived in the town all his life. He went to school for international business management and does not agree with the current path of business the district and state are on.
“The business that I see that we are operating in West Virginia is not business friendly at all,” he said. “We’ve got to be more business friendly and attract these customers and business industries back.”
“We’re killing ourselves in West Virginia just because we are trying to get more taxes from businesses at one time, instead of lowering taxes and letting them do more business. Then we are going to make more money in the long run.”
If elected, Stephens said he is going to form a delegation of political, business and community leaders to sell the state to businesses, comparing it to Jay Rockefeller and Gaston Caperton bringing Toyota to the state.
He also said that along with the business delegation, one of the first things he would do if elected is propose a bill to lower the coal severance tax by 2 percent.
“West Virginia has some of the best coal in the world,” he said. “We’re losing a massive amount of business per year just because of our tax system. It’s a common sense, trickle-down effect. If you lower the tax and you do more business than before, you’re going to make way more money.”
“Some delegates and senators are talking about wanting to raise it. It’s just going in the wrong direction, we’ve got to turn this back around. I think under the Republican leadership that we’ve had, they’ve been doing a good job of it, but we have to do more to get these coal industries coming back to West Virginia.”
Stollings said one of his biggest accomplishments to date deals with coal. It is increasing the amount of money that comes back to his area from the coal severance tax to 12 cents on the dollar after being 7 cents on the dollar.
“I want my area to land on its feet,” he said. “Due to lack of diversification and the downturn of the coal industry, we’ve lost 40 percent of the economy south of the Kanawha in my district. It is coal country. For years and years, the state has benefitted from the coal severance tax that comes from our area. Forever the amount of coal severance tax that stays locally has been only 7 cents on the dollar. One of my proudest accomplishments was increasing that to 12 cents on the dollar, but it goes into an economic development fund handled by the county commission.”
Another issue that has hit District 7 and surrounding areas hard is the opioid and drug crisis. Like the business delegation, Stephens has a similar plan for fighting the epidemic.
“Not only doctors but I have nurses and therapists that have agreed to be on a committee, that have hands-on, every day experience with opioid rehabilitation,” he said. “We’ve got to sit down and get a statewide plan together.”
“They keep talking about this opioid problem and it’s terrible, it really is terrible. But they are just throwing money at it. They are not actually finding a fix. I know it takes more than one way to fix it, but throwing money at it is just kicking the can down the road. We’ve got to have some tough love and fix this problem. It has to be taken very seriously.”
Stollings is hoping to fix broken home lives, turn off the spigot to prescription drugs and invest in recovery help to addicts as ways to curb the epidemic.
“Our families are broken because of these illegal drugs and we’ve got to find a way to restore the home life for these children,” he said. “Instead of cutting child protective services and foster care, we need to invest in those. We have to use this grant money we are going to get from the federal government very wisely. so these students can learn. They can’t learn if they are homeless or hungry.”
“We’ve tried to turn off the spigot on prescription drugs. At the same time, not letting our seniors and people with cancer and chronic severe pain that are legitimate pain patients from not being able to get their medication so they are able to have a quality of life. I’ll just tell you that without me being up there, advocating on behalf of my constituents and my patients, I think some pretty bad things could have happened in that regard.”
Stollings has been an advocate in the Senate for public health care and access to health care, pushing for expanding Medicaid and establishing the office of oral health. Stephens has criticized Stollings for a vote on a health issue in 2016, Senate Bill 10.
He voted no on the bill, the Creating Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.
“That is not a southern West Virginia value,” Stephens said. “He made a statement on the ‘Tom Roten Show’ that he voted for that because it was a national movement. He needs to worry about his constituents in West Virginia. All the voters that I have talked to, and it’s been by the thousands cause I am out every day, that is not something they agree with.”
“He represents them and he took their vote and voted for that. It’s all to do, I feel because he is in the healthcare industry.”
Stollings defends his vote on Senate Bill 10 and his record.
“The OB-GYN doctors and colleagues that I know, trust and have a great relationship with me, came to me and said ‘Doc this is a terrible bill,'” he said. “I looked at it, researched on it and felt that it was an overreach. I have had a perfect pro-life record up until that day. I voted for banning abortions after 20 weeks in the earlier years. This procedure is used mostly for women that are having miscarriages.”
“I’m proud of my record. I think anyone that knows my record would echo that. I have an uninformed and mean-spirited opponent. I welcomed him with open arms to my rotary club here in Madison. He goes out and speaks about some pretty nasty things, shows how uninformed he is. I’m proud of my efforts and I will continue to work hard. I am humbled by the faith that the voters in my district have in me.”
In 2018, Stollings has been the lead sponsor of 10 bills: SB 11, SB 12, SB 13, SB 132, SB 300, SB 332, SB 334, SB 478, SB 488, and SB 560. He has served as Vice Chair of the Committee on Health and Human Resources, 78th and 79th Legislatures; Chair of Committee on Confirmations, 79th Legislature, and Chair, Committee on Health and Human Resources, 80th and 81st Legislatures.
“My opponent has been there 12 years, your record is what you stand on and I can’t see that he has a record to stand on,” Stephens said. “The bills that he has sponsored and the bills that he has co-sponsored is just not legislation to put West Virginia back on the map and get its people working again. People have to face consequences for what they do. That’s why I decided to run for the Senate because I felt we have had enough of Senator Stollings in his 12 years.”
“It doesn’t matter what the day is or when it is, I am going to work continuously until my district and West Virginia is back on the map and successful once again. There’s too much that is killing our state that we can fix that will get West Virginia thriving again.”