CHARLESTON – Rather than raise taxes, Republican Alex Mooney advocates putting national parkland on the auction block, the Republican candidate for Congress said at a West Virginia Business & Industry Council forum here last week.
“We should sell parts of our national parks to help fund the Highway Trust Fund,” Mooney told the gathering at the Charleston Civic Center.
Thursday’s forum was the first public matchup between the two major party candidates for the Second District seat in Congress held by Republican Shelley Moore Capito.
Mooney, who moved from Maryland to Jefferson County last year, will face Democrat Nick Casey on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The question about highway user fees – money that helps finance the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is on the brink of insolvency – came from Mike Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia.
“It is outrageous that the Congress met and did not address this problem of providing money for the repair of roads and bridges across the country,” Casey said. “We have spent all this money in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are still throwing rocks at each other.
“We don’t need to send this money out of the country.”
Mooney used the question to stress his opposition to tax increases. “In my 12 years in the Maryland Legislature, I never voted to raise taxes.” He also served as chairman of the state GOP for Maryland before resigning in early 2013.
He noted that 17 percent of highway user fees “are going to transit [programs], not to highways.”
Casey, who has said he’ll live in the Eastern Panhandle if elected and commute to work in D.C. on the MARC train, decried Mooney’s suggestion to cut funds from the federal public transit budget.
He called it “an action that would dramatically and negatively impact the MARC commuter train service that the Eastern Panhandle of our state relies on.”
The two also disagreed on the Affordable Care Act, with Mooney saying he’d work for it to be dismantled. “It is a complete mess,” he said.
Casey pointed out that the healthcare reform effort has paid off for West Virginia residents and hospitals.
“More than 137,000 uninsured working West Virginians have gained health insurance,” Casey said. “Hospitals are receiving reimbursements they did not get before.”
Thanks to the ACA, 154,000 West Virginians now have health insurance through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a 43 percent increase and the second-biggest in the country.
Also Thursday, federal officials announced that 8,300 West Virginians would get refunds from their insurance companies as part of the ACA, which mandates companies that spent too much on executive bonuses and other non-healthcare items repay consumers.
Both Casey and Mooney said they want to strip funding from parts of the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly regarding proposed carbon emission limits on coal-fired power plants.
Casey called climate change “not our problem,” saying the matter is an international issue rather than something the United States should address.
Said Mooney: “There’s no EPA in China” to monitor that nation’s emissions.
Though earlier this year, a National Climate Assessment from 300 independent scientists detailed how climate change is already affecting the nation’s weather, communities and commerce, Mooney said he considers the science on climate change still unsettled.
The two also responded to accusations that Casey is aligned with President Obama, who is wildly unpopular in West Virginia, and that Mooney is an opportunist who moved to West Virginia solely to run for Congress.
As party chairman, Casey said he did support Obama. “From the courthouse to the White House, we support the ticket,” he said “I’m sure, as my opponent did when he was Republican chairman in Maryland.” “Attempts to tie me to Obama are not going to work,” Casey went on, adding that more than a third of the money his campaign has raised came from Republicans.
He described his campaign as “us against Washington.”
Mooney, meanwhile, called himself “proud to be a West Virginian by choice.”
“My wife and I are raising our family here,” said Mooney, who is renting a house in Charles Town. “We’re sending our children to school here.”
Thursday’s forum wasn’t truly a debate. Both men had seen the questions ahead of time and the event did not include questions from the audience, the media or the other candidate.
After the event, Casey stayed to answer questions from reporters but Paul Nyden of The Charleston Gazette wrote that Mooney walked quickly from the Civic Center after the forum.
He did answer one reporter’s question – about his support for Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions.
“We will leave that up to the courts,” Mooney said.
Independent Ed Rabel and Libertarian Davy Jones weren’t part of the forum. All four hope to replace Capito, a Republican who has served in Congress since 2001.
She’s seeking to take over the U.S. Senate seat held since 1985 by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring.