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Jackson candidates pitch qualifications for Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In asking voters to give him a promotion to the state Senate, six-term Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said there's a clear choice in the 4th District Senate race.

"If you believe a more bipartisan approach in the Legislature is the right thing, there's a good reason for supporting my candidacy," Carmichael said Monday. "Are you going to add one more labor Democrat to the Senate and expect to make a change?"

His opponent, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Bright, said he's had many constituents ask him to run for the Senate, including current 4th District Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, who is stepping down after 12 years in the Senate.

"I feel like my law enforcement experience and experience as an elected official working with the county budget would serve me well in the Legislature," said Bright, a retired state trooper completing his second term as sheriff.

Bright said his legislative focus will be on completing a toll-free four-lane U.S. 35 in Mason County, reducing jail and prison overcrowding, and job creation.

Carmichael agreed that economic development is the key issue for the Legislature.

"The main issue here in West Virginia is, obviously, jobs," he said.

Carmichael and Bright have differing opinions on how to grow the state's economy.

Carmichael emphasizes continued reductions in business taxes and less government regulation.

Bright said he also supports tax cuts, but not arbitrary cuts that would harm public education funding and other governmental services.

He noted that Century Aluminum officials recently testified that state and county taxes amount to about 1 percent of their overall cost of doing business.

"Businesses say they are taxed to death, but the taxes they paid were about 1 percent of their costs," Bright said.

Bright said he believes good infrastructure, quality education systems and stability in state government are also keys in recruiting new business to the state.

Unlike many states, he said, West Virginia has put programs in place to pay down long-term debt, while setting aside more than $850 million in surplus Rainy Day funds.

"West Virginia has paid its bills. Our bond rating is excellent, and we have that surplus," Bright said. "West Virginia is the envy of a lot of states."

Carmichael agreed that West Virginia has taken steps to make itself more business friendly, including lowering some business taxes, privatizing workers' compensation insurance and enacting medical malpractice tort reform.

However, he said, more needs done, beginning with the state's legal climate.

"From a business perspective, the biggest impediment to businesses locating and expanding in West Virginia is the civil justice system," Carmichael said.

Carmichael said he also favors implementing reforms recommended in the state audit of public education, something he believes his opponent, endorsed by both state teachers unions, would have difficulty supporting.

"We are paying as much as anybody in the nation for education and getting results that aren't what they should be, primarily because of these entrenched special-interest groups," he said.

Carmichael said he's hopeful the voters in the 4th District, which includes Jackson County and portions of Roane, Mason and Putnam counties, will believe he deserves a promotion to the Senate.

"I'm passionate about public service, and I try to do the best I can to promote the policies I believe in, which are free-market, pro-business and pro-growth," he said.

Bright, meanwhile, said he has enjoyed his work in public service as a trooper and as sheriff and hopes to continue to serve the public in the Senate.

"I wouldn't have decided to run if I didn't have a legitimate chance of winning," he said, adding, "Politics is great. This has been a real experience for me."

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


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