Incumbent Democrat Tiffany Lawrence will vie with primary challenger Rick Shuman and Republican contender Jill Upson in the upcoming race for the 65th Delegate District, which encompasses Charles Town and Ranson.
Lawrence, who is the vice chair of the House Committee on Political Subdivisions, says she is proud of what she has accomplished so far and hopes to continue on as delegate.
“I think my job is unfinished. I believe and know that I have been well received in Charleston and made some headway for Jefferson County,” Lawrence said. “Building that bridge from Charleston to Jefferson County has been my main goal: opening up the lines of communication, building on what our delegation has been able to do over the last few years, and really trying to regain some of our leadership roles in the House.”
Shuman, a contractor and landlord, said his candidacy will focus on three particular issues.
“My concerns are education, elder care and economic development,” Shuman said.
Upson, a former retail manager, says her candidacy will focus on limited government and promoting economic development through tax cuts, deregulation and tort reform.
“We’ve got a long history of single party control, and I just think that businesses and everyone has an option now, an alternative. And if they are happy with the way things are going, if they like their four-hour commutes each day, then they can continue on that path,” Upson said. “My approach to the role of government is that it should be limited.”
Shuman, who grew up in the western part of the state, said he is motivated to change the economic course of the state. He says he was forced to leave West Virginia for a lack of work when he returned from the Army.
“I want to make some changes. I left West Virginia 30 years ago with tears in my eyes on a Greyhound bus because our state was failing. And I came back 12 years ago, and I see that we didn’t get very far,” Shuman said. “Every time we hear of a good business that has opened up in West Virginia, it is because we have lowered their taxes. Well if we are doing that for every business, maybe we need to take a look at our business tax rates.”
Shuman advocates reforming the business inventory tax.
“We definitely need to take another look at the inventory tax in this state. I’m still fairly confident that the reason we didn’t get Amazon is because of that inventory tax. Amazon works on a low profit, and when you throw that inventory tax on top of that, it is very difficult for a company to take a hit,” Shuman said.
Shuman said he would support raising the coal severance tax to 5 percent and the elimination of prevailing wage mandates from state law.
“Prevailing wage adds 20 percent to the bill for any building you build,” Shuman said. “If we have to give up government funds for breaking with prevailing wage, let them keep it.”
Upson also advocates promoting economic development.
“My number one motivation is the economy – to bring a stronger economy to our district,” Upson said. “We have all these commuters – these people who go to Duffields and get on that train every single morning. We can do a lot better. We have skilled labor in this area. There’s no excuse for why we don’t have more jobs for these people closer to home.”
Upson said she would advocate lowering taxes and reducing regulations as a means to promote growth.
“We should cut back on a lot of the regulations and ease up on a lot of the taxes,” Upson said. “I would look across the board and continue talking to business people, because they know best.”
Upson said she also advocates tort reform. In particular, she would support instituting comparative liability standards in civil lawsuits, which would require judges to assign a percentage of liability to both plaintiffs and defendants, and would proportion damages accordingly.
“It is very similar to a loser pays law, in that it discourages people from bringing lawsuits that are unfounded,” Upson. “It would cut down on frivolous lawsuits, and that would also encourage businesses to do business in this state.”
Upson said she would work to reduce the scope of government.
“The military calls it ‘mission creep.’ And that’s what I see – and a lot of other people see – happening right now. Little by little, our freedoms and our liberties and the decisions that we make are kind of being taken away and taken over by government,” Upson said, adding her experience in business gives her an in-depth understanding about how to cut government programs.
“I had to produce budgets. I had to read a profit and loss statement. I had to hire, fire, counsel – all the things that come with running a business. Sometimes it was hard. You had to make cuts, and I know how to do it,” Upson said. “I’m not afraid to really get in there and look at where savings can be made.”
Lawrence said she is also a fiscal conservative, and maintains her independence.
“I never align myself with any party per se in Charleston, even though I believe in what I feel are mainly democratic philosophies. I am sort of a social liberal, if you will, and a fiscal conservative. I am always looking to tighten our budgets and cut waste,” Lawrence said, adding her primary specialty in the legislature has been in education policy, where she says she has been active in “reforming the educational system, brining more local autonomy to the process, engaging with the state board of education and developing policies that are going to be implemented on a local level.”
“I think I’ve been labeled as the ‘education guru,’ at least by many of my colleagues. I come from a family of educators. My husband is a high school administrator,” Lawrence said.
One bill she said she is particularly proud of is the creation of school innovation zones, which she said allow local schools to apply for grants and exemptions to “open up their school day in any way they see fit.”
Lawrence said she has helped make progress toward implementing locality pay and cost of living adjustments for area teachers.
“A lot of our young educators are going to Maryland or Virginia because the pay is $10,000 higher in those border counties,” she said.
Lawrence points out that she worked with Sen. Herb Snyder to create the Cost of Housing Index, which tracks the prices of current home sales on a county-by-county basis.
“We consider (it) to be the precursor for implementing any cost of living adjustment, whether it’s for educators or other public employees,” Lawrence said. “What it does is really codify the differences that we see regionally.”
Lawrence said she also hopes to pass legislation that would give new education graduates a large tax deduction in return for staying in the state and teaching for two years.
Shuman said he advocates major education reforms to improve student outcomes.
“We spend more dollars per student than any county in the state and most states in this country, but we’re just not getting the performance from our students,” he said. “We put our kids in a position where they can’t compete with those from Maryland and Virginia.”
Shuman said he advocates reducing administrative positions in order to shift more funds to teachers.
“We are definitely top heavy,” he said. “Most private schools run with about 25 to 30 percent administration compared to teachers. Unfortunately, in our county schools, we are almost at 50-50.”
Shuman said he would also support looking at charter schools and more teacher evaluation.
“I feel that we can’t continue to not run our schools like a business,” Shuman said.