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Most House 35th GOP candidates oppose table games recall

Lawrence Pierce
Republican candidates for the 35th House of Delegates district are (top row, from left) Ann Calvert, Todd Carden and Fred Joseph; (bottom row, from left) John McCuskey, Eric Nelson and Suzette Raines.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Only one of the six Republican candidates for the 35th House of Delegates district interviewed by Gazette editors Tuesday voiced support for a recall election for the Mardi Gras casino's table games license.

Fred Joseph, a frequent House candidate from Charleston, said he would support a recall election, stating, "It's a simple matter of accountability."

He said the racetrack/casino ownership failed to live up to promises to make $250 million of investment at the facility when it campaigned for the table games referendum five years ago.

State Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart held a news conference at the Capitol on March 1 to announce plans for a petition drive to put the recall vote on the November ballot. The announcement drew a firestorm of criticism, and within the month, Stuart announced his resignation as party chairman.

Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said Stuart invited Republican legislators to attend the news conference but that they were not apprised of the nature of the announcement.

"There was no advance notice to myself or any of the elected Kanawha County officials," said Nelson, who did not attend the announcement.

Nelson said he did not sense any sentiment among constituents for a recall vote.

"People said, 'What's going on?' We're talking, first of all, about a lot of jobs there," he said.

Suzette Raines, who runs a Charleston-based public relations firm, called the announcement ill-conceived and anti-business.

"Do I deserve to be hung out to dry as a private business owner trying to invest in the state?" she asked. "That is not what the Republican Party is all about."

John McCuskey, a Charleston lawyer, said an effort to take away Mardi Gras' table games license "seems like an extreme position," but said he could not comment at length since he works with Stuart at the Steptoe & Johnson law firm.

Six of the 10 candidates in the newly configured four-member House district that goes from southwest to central Kanawha County, including St. Albans, Dunbar, most of South Charleston, and part of Kanawha City, attended Tuesday's meeting.

Several spoke favorably of the redistricting, which broke up the seven-member 30th District into two districts.

"I'm encouraged by the realignment of the districts, so we have four and not seven [delegates] from one area," said Todd Carden, a retired Public Service Commission analyst and frequent House candidate.

With a majority of voters in the new 36th District residing in the eastern half of the county, Nelson said he's hopeful redistricting will assure that at least one of the three delegates in that district will be from the Upper Kanawha Valley.

Joseph, who works in that area, said 30th District delegates have neglected the Upper Kanawha Valley for years.

While the area has serious needs for roads, sewer service and other infrastructure, Joseph said, "They talk about putting a roof on the recreation center, or a park at Cedar Grove."

The candidates also said they would push to make the state more friendly to business by cutting taxes and reducing bureaucratic red-tape.

"I don't understand why we're last or near the last in all the good categories," said Ann Calvert, a former four-term delegate, calling it an enigma, given the state's riches in natural resources.

Several cited the state business inventory tax as being particularly anti-business.

"It's an anti-competitive tax," McCuskey said.

Four other GOP candidates on the May primary ballot -- Elias Gregory, Matt Kelly, Micah Phelps and Michael Young -- did not attend Tuesday's interviews.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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