By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Virginia’s 3rd Delegate District is also coal country in deep Southwest Virginia, a fact that hasn’t escaped the two candidates vying for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Incumbent Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, is being challenged in his re-election bid by Democrat James M. O’Quinn of the Deskins community of Buchanan County. Both candidates met last week with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board where they talked about coal, the Coalfields Expressway, jobs, regionalism, high utility rates and bipartisanship in both Richmond and Washington.
Morefield, the incumbent from Tazewell, has served in the House of Delegates since 2010 serving the 3rd Delegate District, which includes the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell. He serves on the Counties, Cities and Towns subcommittee, the Militia Police and Public Safety subcommittee and the Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee. Morefield, 29, is a small business owner in Tazewell County. He recently participated in a tour of Israel and is currently working to attract an Israel-based food-production company to Southwest Virginia.
O’Quinn, 56, enlisted in the United States Army in 1978 serving almost six years in the teletype communications field where he obtained a top secret security clearance. During his time in the Army, he was stationed in Virginia, Georgia, Texas and Hawaii. He later worked for 14 years at the Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Buchanan County, and six more years at the Coburn Correctional Center before retiring. He is entering politics for the first time.
Both men expressed their support for the coal industry, and discussed the challenges the industry is facing from the Obama administration and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“I think how we address the coal issue from a state perspective or the state General Assembly is by addressing federal regulations,” Morefield said. “I’ve often been criticized for addressing too many federal regulations. But I feel that is our responsibility as lawmakers. We look at what the General Assembly can do to address those types of regulations. We’ve done that and continue to do that. I’ve patroned legislation asking Congress to address the issues. From a state perspective it is how we can better protect and aid the coal industry. If re-elected, I will be the third ranking member on the Coal and Energy committee.”
Morefield said state lawmakers have also assisted the coal industry by reducing tax rates and providing tax credits.
He warns the EPA and the Obama administration is waging not only a war on coal, but is also planning to launch a war on natural gas.
“I truly support the coal industry,” O’Quinn said. “It’s a much needed asset in the 3rd District. My dad was a coal miner and my grandfather was a coal miner. My dad worked 29 years in the coal mine, raised five kids and was part of the UMWA. We didn’t go hungry. As far as the EPA, it’s kind of simple. Eating a piece of pie is OK, but when you eat the whole pie it makes you sick. We need clean air and clean water, but we don’t want to overstep our boundaries to where we have to lay people off.”
Morefield questioned why Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has refused to campaign in the coalfields, or the 3rd Legislative District. McAuliffe also has ignored repeated requests by the Daily Telegraph for an editorial board session interview. But O’Quinn said McCauliff has campaigned in the region at least once during a UMWA cookout.
Morefield said he is supporting Cuccinelli for governor because Cuccinelli has fought for coal as attorney general, and is campaigning in support of coal. Morefield said McCauliff by comparison is receiving millions of dollars in campaign funds from what he calls “extreme environmentalists.”
O’Quinn said his focus is on the 3rd Delegate District campaign, and not the gubernatorial race. He declined to say who he was supporting Nov. 5 in the state’s gubernatorial race.
“I’m campaigning for James O’Quinn, and I will leave it up to the voters to decide who they will vote for (in the governor’s race),” O’Quinn said. “That may not be what you want to hear, but I would rather keep that to myself and my family. I’m new in this political field and I may not have all of the answers.”
The candidates were asked about how the state could address high utility rates in Southwest Virginia.
O’Quinn said one way of reducing costs — and keeping the lights on during severe storms — would be moving power lines underground.
“We would like to take into consideration burying some of those power lines,” O’Quinn said. “It seems like every time we have a storm the power goes out. That puts the elderly people at risk. So we need ways of keeping the power on during those storms, and we’ve had quite a few other (utility) workers from out of state brought in. However, when they do that it is a lot of overtime. And they pay those guys a lot of money and overtime. And by paying that overtime bill it stands to reason that the cost is passed on to us as a consumer.”
O’Quinn said the membership of the Virginia State Corporation Commission also should be expanded with representation from the area.
Morefield said a part of the problem is new EPA regulations coming out of Washington are resulting in higher electric bills.
“This will increase the cost of electricity and that will ultimately be passed down to the consumer,” Morefield said. “We’ve got to create alternative ways in Virginia to combat that.”
Morefield said the majority of Virginia’s coalfield counties remain dependent upon coal and natural gas.
Morefield said he introduced legislation last year that would have provided a 20 percent reduced rate on electric bills for residents who are 60 years of age or older. However, the measure didn’t pass the General Assembly. Morefield said he plans to reintroduce a similar measure next year.
Both candidates talked about the current state of dysfunction in Washington.
Morefield said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the strategy of his fellow Republicans in Washington.
“I believe the Republicans are receiving the majority of the blame in this case,” Morefield said of the prolonged government shutdown and fight. “Obviously we were one of the first states in the country to outlaw universal health care on the state level, and then as most of you know we followed suit by filing suit in the Supreme Court and as you know we lost that. We felt like Americans would truly not understand what universal health care is and how it would impact them, until it was fully implemented.”
As the new law goes on, Morefield said more and more citizens will now see that Obamacare doesn’t work. With that being said Morefield believes it is important for lawmakers to compromise and negotiate both on the state and federal level.
“I think that is what you are elected to do is compromise,” Morefield said. “I think both sides need to reach a compromise. It is their responsibility.”
O’Quinn said lawmakers must be able to compromise and put the citizens first.
“We need to put the people first, and by doing this sometimes we need to compromise,” O’Quinn said. “With this shutdown — even though it is on the federal level and I’m on the state level — a small comment on that would be let’s not forget the people. On the back of my (campaign) cards it’s got written (on it) unity. When we play sports, we try to win and we try to play the best we can and hit that other guy as hard as we can. But when it is over you shake hands.”
Both candidates also expressed support for the Coalfields Expressway, and working with other counties and localities on a regional basis. Both men also expressed support for drug testing for those who receive public assistance.
“Over the past four years, we have made the largest investment in transportation we have had in the last four years, and we are now starting to see the results of that as you drive across the region,” Morefield said. “In regards to the Coalfields Expressway, you saw significant funding that was recently contributed to that project. I give the majority of that credit to Gov. Bob McDowell. As Mr. O’Quinn stated, it (the Coalfields Expressway) is a very slow moving project, and as with most large projects we expect it to move slow, but it is moving. I do believe that Virginia has set an example for other states to follow. I would like to work with our counterparts in West Virginia in maybe following a similar model.”
“I think it’s a much needed project,” O’Quinn said of the Coalfields Expressway. “But the work needs to continue and that highway is much needed for the area. By having that highway, it would entice companies to come in and locate in that area.”
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com