Rematch expected as parties vote governor picks
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Bill Maloney are poised for a rematch after last year's close special gubernatorial election. But each must first face an opponent he bested in last year's special primary.
Republican Ralph William Clark and Democrat Arne Moltis argue they would do a better job than their better-known rivals. But both face uphill battles. Maloney and Tomblin have vastly outraised their primary opponents and locked up endorsements as they gear up for a fall matchup.
Clark, 68, is a philosophy professor at West Virginia University. Like Maloney, Clark criticizes the state's judicial system, tax code and regulatory rules as obstacles to economic growth. Clark also favors right to work, a policy that bars mandatory union membership at workplaces with collective bargaining agreements.
"My approach is to have the best possible message, a message that none of the others running has put forward," said Clark. "West Virginia has numerous natural advantages. ... My message is that West Virginia needs to do everything right to compete with other states."
Clark said that while Maloney has some good ideas, he and the other candidates "don't go far enough."
"With my background in philosophy, I look at both sides of every question," Clark said. He also said of his view, "good government is government for everyone and plays no favorites."
Clark attracted less than 2 percent of the vote in last year's GOP primary, which featured seven other candidates including Maloney. A Supreme Court ruling required a special election for the unexpired term left when then-Gov. Joe Manchin joined the U.S. Senate after his 2010 special election win.
Moltis, 61, received 481 votes in a six-way Democratic primary last year that saw several top officeholders campaigning to succeed Manchin. The South Charleston landlord now finds himself the only challenger to Tomblin, who was acting as governor during last year's race. Tomblin had been the state Senate president, an office designated by the West Virginia Constitution as next in line behind the governor.
Moltis said his goals include improving the quality of meat served at schools. Moltis said he opposes adding an ammonia-treated filler commonly known as "pink slime" to beef. Federal regulators say the filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.
"It's really worse than dog food," Moltis said. "I have a teaching degree, so I do care about the children."
Moltis said his top issue is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Drillers pump high volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand down wells to break up rock deep underground to release ancient deposits of natural gas. In West Virginia, the process is frequently employed in the state's share of the Marcellus shale reserve.
Concerns over hydraulic fracturing range from local streams sucked dry to supply fracking fluid to drinking water sources polluted by fluid seeping out of gas wells. Moltis believes fracking poisons water wells.
"He's for fracking," Moltis said of Tomblin. "He promises to frack every place he can get his hands on, and poison the water and put the farmers out of work. I'm the opposite of that."
After years of impasse, Tomblin successfully secured new Marcellus drilling rules during a special legislative session last year. Among other regulatory measures, it requires buffer zones separating large-scale Marcellus wells from water sources and dwellings. Tomblin also ordered state regulators to issue emergency rules governing these operations that address encasing a well in cement to prevent leaks and call on drillers to disclose the chemicals added to fracking fluid.
Environmental groups and surface owner advocates argue that both the emergency rules and special session legislation fell short. Industry has cautiously praised these efforts as providing regulatory clarity and certainty to operators.
Tomblin considers the new Marcellus law a key achievement of his administration. He also said it reflects his approach to government, as it involved enlisting stakeholders in an attempt to reach consensus. Tomblin was first elected to the Legislature in 1974, and was the longest-serving Senate president in state history when Manchin resigned as governor in November 2010.
"I've always been a consensus builder," Tomblin said. "If you know anything about state government, you've got to work with everyone to get things done."
Tomblin also counts among his successes his recent legislation addressing coal mine safety and targeting various forms of substance abuse. He's reminding voters that instead of hiking taxes, West Virginia continues to cut them both for consumers and businesses. The sales tax on groceries and a tax on business net equity are each scheduled for gradual repeal within the next several years. The corporate net income tax rate is on track to decline as well.
Creating jobs remains Tomblin's top message. He touts the new Gestamp automotive parts plant slated for South Charleston, and the Macy's distribution center in Berkeley County. He also defends the state's offer of tax breaks and incentives to attract these and other employers.
"If you don't have them, you can't compete with other states," Tomblin said.
But Maloney continues to campaign against such tax policies, as he did last year. The Morgantown drilling engineer and business owner lost to Tomblin by less than 7,050 votes in the 2011 special election.
"We make all these special deals to attract these big companies, but we don't do anything for the mom and pops," Maloney said.
Maloney instead advocates more across-the-board tax relief. He said West Virginia requires major changes amid rankings that place it at or near the bottom of states for such things as poverty, per-capita income and labor force participation. He said West Virginia needs leadership, not attempts at consensus.
"We've got way too much going for us to be dead last in all these categories," Maloney said.
Maloney's priorities also include requiring photo identification when voting, and fighting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Maloney considers that agency an overreaching bureaucracy, and says he's heard "horror stories" about its conduct from people involved in coal, oil, gas, timber and farming. He has called for the firing of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and has challenged Tomblin to do the same.
Maloney is hoping to stump with Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, and attended a Thursday fundraiser for the former Massachusetts governor in Wheeling. Maloney said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is slated to campaign for him in June, and he expects other Republican governors to aid his effort as well.