U.S. House Candidates Square Off in Wetzel County
NEW MARTINSVILLE – Gun control, the opioid crisis and fixing the national healthcare system were among the topics congressional candidates discussed during a Wetzel County debate Tuesday night.
Democrats Ralph Baxter, Kendra Fershee and Tom Payne kept the debate civil as they squared off at Mollohan Center in New Martinsville. They are running against each other for a seat in the 1st District, which is held now by Republican Rep. David McKinley.
The debate was hosted by the Wetzel County Democratic Executive Committee.
Baxter, who is the former CEO of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, in Wheeling, said one of the reasons he chose to run for office is because of the lack of jobs in West Virginia.
“We need more jobs,” he said. “I know we can create jobs.”
He went on to say Congress has failed the people in the 1st District.
“Congress doesn’t work for us,” said Baxter. “If you nominate me, I believe I’ll win the election in November and bring back this seat to the people of West Virginia.”
Fershee said she decided to run for office because, she said, “We need someone to serve West Virginia.
Payne said he wants to work with the people in Congress to “Get a good deal for West Virginia where we haven’t been getting a good deal for a long time.
“We will get a lot, and we will be done with a do-nothing Congress,” he said. “I am here to return common sense to Congress.”
When it came to the issues, Fershee said healthcare is a human right.
“We’ve all thought of it as an insurance process instead of a health process,” she said. “We need universal healthcare, so we aren’t judging needs of where you work and your age, but on the fact you need healthcare.”
Payne agreed with Fershee, saying universal healthcare “Is the way to go.
“The problem is getting there,” he said. “Most of that deals with Republicans in the House and Senate. What I’d like to do is negotiate on a fair playing field, but get medical treatment for all of us, get treatment for all Americans on an equal basis.”
Baxter said although Americans have the Affordable Care Act, “Premiums are too high and deductibles are too high.
“We need to repair ACA,” he said. “We can find solutions to healthcare for everyone. We can set our minds to doing that.”
The candidates also said they want to ensure Medicare and Social Security is available to their constituents.
“We should have a right to the benefits of our paying into Social Security,” Payne said. “It was guaranteed to us under the law, and it still is.”
“It is not an entitlement,” Baxter agreed. “It is something Americans work for all their lives.”
Baxter said he would oppose any effort to reduce or diminish those rights. Fershee agreed.
“It is a matter of political will,” Fershee said. “Social security and Medicare will be in existence as long as they need to be if our people and legislatures decide they will be behind it.”
The candidates also discussed veterans’ healthcare.
“What we have allowed to happen is disgraceful,” said Baxter.
“I think until the VA healthcare system is fixed, Congress should be on the VA healthcare system,” said Fershee.
She suggested federal entities be located in other areas besides Washington. Fershee suggested the main hub of the VA being located in West Virginia.
Payne said he would work with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs “And get these programs to where they should be.
“We, as former soldiers, will have more influence in the way the VA is operated,” he said. “We want to make sure it is efficient and works for soldiers.”
Speaking of healthcare, Fershee likened the opioid crisis to a healthcare crisis.
“We have an enforcement problem,” she said. “We aren’t holding accountable the people causing this crisis, and those people are companies.”
Fershee said communities need to be rebuilt.
“One of the reasons people are dealing with addiction they don’t have a place where they are engaged and can go back,” she said.
Payne cited Switzerland and the Netherlands as having “Great programs that have rehabilitation in opioids.” He said these programs should be implemented here.
Meanwhile, Baxter said swift action is necessary.
“We have to act decisively and comprehensively,” he said.
Candidates also tackled the issue of gun control.
Payne, who has military experience, said he is somewhat familiar with gun violence.
“I was a trained killer,” he said. “I never had to do it.”
Payne said the key to the issue is regulating semi-automatic or automatic assault rifles.
“We have to do away with those,” he said. “We have to stop them from being produced if necessary. We have to do away with 35 and higher cartridges, magazines those things are just too killing efficient to have in a civilized society.”
Baxter said the key is getting guns out of hands of people who are dangers to others and themselves
“The key is getting the legislature to do something,” he said.
Baxter said he supports universal background checks, “to make sure we have all the information we need in the system.
“We need background checks for every transaction, no matter what kind,” he said.
Baxter also said money needs to be placed into the background check system, so all data is registered. He noted that, in recent massacres, “had the background check system worked, something could have been done.”
Fershee said FDR had once referenced four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom from fear, and freedom from poverty.
“I couldn’t identify with freedom from fear when putting my kids on the bus after Parkland,” she said.
Fershee said she believes in the Second Amendment, the Constitution, and the right to bear arms.
“But we need common sense rules that keep people from possessing guns when they shouldn’t,” she said.