CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Every morning for the last month, Talley Sergent has called U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., to ask him to take part in a debate.
Sergent, the Democratic candidate in this year’s 2nd Congressional District Race, began making the calls after sending a letter requesting three such events before the Nov. 6 election.
Sergent broadcasts the calls live on Facebook, and hasn’t yet talked to Mooney.
“I call his cellphone and he refuses to answer the call, just like he’s refused to answer the call over the last four years,” she told MetroNews. “I personally believe that it’s time to take the message to the people.”
Mooney said he has noticed the calls; he doesn’t have the urge to answer the phone.
“Apparently, someone has given her at least one of my cellphone numbers,” he said.
Mooney is seeking a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, running in a contest political analysts see as likely to go in his favor. As for Sergent, her resume includes working for former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the U.S. State Department, the Coca-Cola Company and as state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The 2nd District goes from the West Virginia-Ohio border to the Eastern Panhandle, more than 300 miles from the furthest points.
Mooney said in an interview last week he has earned being reelected, pointing to a strong national economy under President Donald Trump.
“My first two years, Barack Obama was president. We were mostly playing defense against the president and his war on coal and his very different agenda than the conservative, Republican Congress had in general,” he said.
“The last two years, we’ve had a new president. It’s been great to work with him to start to revive the coal industry and get the economy going. No one can argue that the economy isn’t doing well. We are doing very well. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, everyone knows the economy is doing well.”
Mooney voted last year in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which lowered the individual tax cuts through 2025 and set the corporate tax rate at 21 percent. The House passed a bill in September to make the individual rate changes permanent.
“I believe cutting those taxes was a crucial component of getting the economy going better in this country, bringing jobs back to America and bringing jobs to West Virginia,” he said.
Mooney has also been active in easing banking regulations, something he is eyeing to continue if reelected.
“Big companies and little companies need to look at West Virginia,” he said. “Small businesses are important. I serve on the Financial Services Committee and a package of bills we’ve passed — some Dodd-Frank reforms — to deregulate the banking community to offer loans to small business start-ups. That’s part of this growth we have seen.”
Sergent noted how often the economy is mentioned while on the campaign trail, and it is not in regards to the national economic outlook.
“A lot of folks want to have a good paying job in their county and not have to drive over the border or three counties over in order to make a decent living and have a livable wage,” she said.
According to WorkForce West Virginia, the state’s unemployment rate is 5.2 percent compared to the national rate of 3.7 percent.
“What Alex Mooney did was to vote to give $1.5 trillion in tax breaks to multinational corporations that are not in West Virginia and who ship jobs overseas,” Sergent continued. “He gave them permanent tax breaks and he didn’t give them to the people of West Virginia who need it most.”
Sergent said the state is already struggling to fill current job opportunities, noting the 700 vacancies in West Virginia’s education system. She tied the state’s job climate to the state’s opioid epidemic.
“It is really hard to find a workforce that is drug-free en masse. That is something that requires immediate attention. We’re already behind the 8-ball because of a lack of action and partnership from the federal government with local and state entities with the private sector,” she said.
The opioid epidemic is something that has affected Sergent directly; her sister has an addiction, and Sergent’s mother is raising the woman’s three children.
“These aren’t just numbers and stats; this is my family, and this is like a lot of other West Virginia families,” she said.
West Virginia has the highest rate of death from the opioid epidemic; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the state’s fatal opioid overdose rate is 52 deaths per 100,000 people.
Sergent has laid out a three-point plan — “the ABC’s of combating the drug epidemic” — for addressing the opioid crisis. The proposal involves enforcing accountability from drug companies as well as people with addiction and doctors accused of overprescribing opioids, increasing social workers and drug education programs in schools and improving recovery options and private-public partnerships.
“Right now, Clay County doesn’t even have any treatment help at all. There’s no drug court or prevention center. How are we going to break this cycle and wrap our arms around this drug epidemic when there are no services available in these counties?” she said.
“I’ve gone to law enforcement, day report center professions, treatment professionals, educators. I’ve gone to people who are recovering addicts,” she said. “What is it that we need to do?”
Mooney said he’s co-sponsored and supported “dozens of bills” funding treatment and enforcement initiatives; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson toured Recovery Point, a drug rehabilitation center in Charleston, in May with Mooney, former Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and Sen. Joe Manchin.
“I actually have an internship program in my office where we take folks who are in recovery and have them intern in our Charleston office,” he said. “I’m doing my part, and I’m proud to do that.”
On the door of Sergent’s Charleston campaign office is a sign reading “Protect Our Care.” Her campaign is running an advertisement criticizing Mooney for his multiple votes against the Affordable Care Act, including the provision protecting coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
“There were some parts of ‘Obamacare’ that we were going to keep, but there were many parts we could not keep,” Mooney said of last year’s Affordable Care Act repeal and replace efforts.
“It needed to be replaced with something that actually works that keeps premiums down for everybody. It’s a complicated issue. We could do a couple hour show on this. I think people need to buy across state lines. We need lawsuit reforms. We need more competition in health care. There’s a lot of parts to health care that we need to look at.”
Another recent Sergent advertisements attacks Mooney for not being originally from West Virginia; Mooney served in the Maryland Senate between December 1999 and January 2011, as well as chairman of the Maryland Republican Party from December 2010 to March 2013. He now resides in Jefferson County.
Democrats labeled Mooney as a “carpetbagger” in the 2014 election, accusing him of taking advantage of an opening in public office; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., represented the 2nd District between 2001 and 2015.
Mooney called himself a West Virginian “by choice,” adding he’s proud to have moved to West Virginia.
“I think my opponent attacks me for that because she wants to avoid the issues,” he said. “I’ve been elected twice. I’ve been doing this job for four years. I think voters deserve a discussion upon which a congressman will vote, not the personal attacks the Democrats will bring up constant.”
As for a debate against Sergent — which she said she wants — Mooney said it likely won’t happen.
“She’s a liberal Democrat who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. I’m a conservative Republican who supports Donald Trump. I think voters know the difference,” he said.
Sergent said a Democrat in West Virginia is much different from the national image of the party, and it’s something she hopes voters understand on Election Day.
“For Talley Sergent, being a Democrat means taking those core West Virginia values that my grandparents instilled in me — they were part of the greatest generation after World War II — humility, honesty and hard work. And also service to others,” she said.
One difference between Sergent and national Democrats is possible support for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker; Sergent said she has no intentions to vote for Pelosi if elected.
“Washington is so disgustingly broken right now. I say kick them all out,” she added.