Republican Chandler Swope and Democrat Rockwell “Rocky” Seay

Republican Chandler Swope and Democrat Rockwell “Rocky” Seay met last week with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board, and presented largely opposing views on issues ranging from Right to Work, the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage, how to solve the state’s budget crisis and turnpike tolls.

BLUEFIELD — Republican Chandler Swope and Democrat Rockwell “Rocky” Seay are vying Nov. 8 for the Senate District 6 seat in southern West Virginia.

Both men met last week with members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board, and presented largely opposing views on issues ranging from Right to Work, the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage, how to solve the state’s budget crisis and turnpike tolls. The two men did find some common ground when questioned about ways to advance the King Coal Highway and the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. But the largely cordial editorial board session later erupted into an argument over negative advertising as both men prepared to leave the session.

Swope took exception to what he called untrue allegations made by Seay, who is alleging in political advertisement that Swope once hired foreign labor instead of local workers at a Swope Construction Company job. Swope denies those claims, and brought paperwork from the Department of Labor that Swope said refuted the allegations by Seay.

Swope said he felt it was important to ask Seay in person why he was making false claims in a political advertisement. Seay, in return, stood by his argument that Swope once hired foreign workers over local workers.

The 6th senatorial district  includes Mercer, McDowell, Mingo and Wayne counties. The seat is currently held by Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, who is the Republican nominee for governor of West Virginia. 

Both candidates were asked to give an opening statement to explain why they want to serve in the state Senate.

“I think the most important issue facing West Virginia is growing the economy and creating jobs,” Swope said. “The voters should choose the candidate with the best qualifications, the most experience and is most likely to know the kinds of things that create jobs and the kinds of things that don’t. I have nearly 40 years of experience managing companies and creating jobs. Swope Construction Company and its subcontractors have employed 300 to 400 people since I founded it 32 years ago. Although most of my work has been in West Virginia, I also have experience working in Virginia and Kentucky. Virginia, in particular, has always had a distinct advantage over West Virginia with its legal and regulatory environment. Until recently, right to work was at the top of the list of reasons employers located in Virginia. We now have a level playing field with right to work, but there is still a lot to do. Great strides have also been made with legal reform in the last two years.”

Swope, who was born and raised in Welch in McDowell County, attended Ohio State University. He worked at Corte Construction for nearly 20 years before creating Swope Construction Company in 1983.

“I’m a lawyer here in Mercer County,” Seay said. “In fact I like to think a small town practitioner. I defend people who are accused of things and help with juvenile work. I think my legal work will be instrumental. I was trained to know and practice the law and I think it qualifies me to make the law. What I want to do is create jobs in coal, agriculture and tourism. We need to be putting our eggs in all of the baskets we can — building roads, providing jobs. That’s why I’m running for office.”

Seay, a graduate of Big Creek High School in McDowell County who later attended Concord University, West Virginia University and Stetson University College of Law, is a partner and founding member of the law firm of Parrott & Seay PLLC in Princeton.

Both men were asked about the decline in coal production in southern West Virginia, and their plans for job creation.

Seay said coal is important and will continue to be important to the future of West Virginia. But he said lawmakers must also focus on creating jobs in the tourism and agriculture industries, among others.

Swope agreed that diversification is necessary. However, improving the state’s business and legal climate, while removing regulatory burdens that are impairing job creation, is necessary, Swope said. He pointed to the anti-coal policies that are coming out of Washington that have negatively impacted the region. Swope said he also disputes the argument that coal is contributing to climate change.

Both candidates disagreed over the recent passage of a right-to-work measure in the Mountain State and the decision by lawmakers to repeal the state’s prevailing wage for public construction projects. 

The right-to-work bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year prohibits an employer from making union membership a condition of employment. Supporters of the legislation argue that the removal of the onerous requirement will help in attracting new businesses and industries to the state.

However, Seay said the legislation is simply an attack on unions. “The history of the unions were born in this state. Our grandparents fought and died to unionize. All right to work is is a union busting law,” Seay said. “It is giving union benefits to people who don’t pay union fees. That’s all right to work is. The purpose of right to work is to simply bust up our unions. If elected I’m going to do everything in my power to restore prevailing wage and bust up right to work.”

Seay also voiced opposition to the repeal of prevailing wage. “We are not going to make our economy better by taking money out of working class people’s pockets. We are a consumer economy. The stronger working class we have the more invigorated our economy will be.”

Seay said workers who are not allowed to unionize are at a disadvantage with wages being driven downward.

However, Swope said data from historical job cost records shows that prevailing wage adds approximately 25 percent to the cost of construction jobs. This amounts to between $250 million to $500 million in additional costs per year, according to Swope.

“Well I will start with prevailing wage,” Swope said. ‘I’m opposed to prevailing wage because you have to increase taxes to pay for it. I’ve got technical data that proves it adds 25 percent to the cost of jobs. So that is up to $250 million a year it adds to the cost of jobs. That would result in somewhere of a 5 percent tax increase just to cover it. I would rather use that money for teacher pay and other things. Prevailing wage is the only area where wages are determined by government. Government doesn’t determine wages anywhere else in the economy. So I’m opposed to it due to the cost.”

Swope also expressed support for right to work. “The union’s make the argument that you are required to represent all workers, including those that are not in the union. That is not true,” Swope said. “I think men should have a right to bargain collectively. But I think the individual rights should not be taken away to force unionization. So I’m in favor of the individual making his own choice (on whether to join a union or not).”

Swope said West Virginia is at a disadvantage in terms of job creation without right to work. 

Both men were asked what steps they could take as a state senator to help expedite construction on the long-delayed King Coal Highway project.

“Obviously it is in the six-year plan under the year 2019,” Swope said of the current timetable for a resumption of construction on the future Interstate 73/74/75 corridor. “My goal would be to try to accelerate that. The long-term solution has to deal with funding, and we have to go with all of the funding we can get. We also need to get the state economy right side up. I think highways are the backbone of infrastructure, and we need to do all that we can.”

“One thing specifically, it is in the six-year plan, and obviously it needs to be accelerated,” Seay said. “One way of doing that is utilization of the tolls that are currently on the interstate. Sixty million of that money is from out of state. It is a wonderful measure that we are able to take tax dollars from outside of West Virginia and apply it to West Virginia’s needs. We need to do everything we can to earmark that money when we take over the tolls to use it for construction on those projects. We have to be willing to put our money where our mouth is. If we just depend upon Washington to build that road it is never going to be built.”

Both men also voiced opposing viewpoints over the recent decision by lawmakers to repeal the state’s concealed carry permit requirement. As a result, it is now legal in West Virginia for people to conceal guns in public without permits. Seay said he supports requiring a concealed carry permit. Swope said he supports the current permitless carry law.

“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I do not support permitless (carry),” Seay said. “I’m a lawyer by profession and I work with police officers everyday. The police officers I speak to in the courthouse and in passing everyday have indicated to me it is a dangerous law. And anything that endangers them I think is a bad idea.

“I’m in favor of the current law for permitless carry,” Swope said. 

Both men were asked how they would address the state’s current financial crisis if elected. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is projecting a $558 million budget shortfall in 2017 and a $300 million to $400 million shortfall in 2018.

“That’s a real good question,” Swope said. “Things are ugly. That is where we are. So that is what we have to face. What you have to do is look at the potential revenues and find out what services the state can provide and which ones you can’t. I’m confident that there is excess cost in state government. But you have to be careful in how you surgically (cut). I think to make government more efficient is one solution. And there is probably a bigger opportunity in regulatory reform than anywhere else. So it is going to be a look under every rock for every nickel you can find and get the best efficiency we can at it.”

“We are neither going to cut ourselves into prosperity and we at not going to raise our taxes into prosperity,” Seay said. “I’m not going to Charleston with the intent to raise taxes. But when I get to Charleston, I’m not going to cut a single teacher’s pay. Working people need to have money in their economy. There is wasteful government spending, and we need to go in and fix it. What we need to do is tighten our belt and raise revenue. I believe we have to look at small things that just sort of spread across the spectrum and not just one board. Perhaps the food tax, or a small increase in the state’s sales tax are more likely and would be less burdensome.”

Both men were asked how they could work as a senator to help grow the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, and those related lodging and food accommodations that are still needed to serve the out-of-town riders who are traveling each weekend to Mercer and McDowell counties.

Swope said one way the state can help is by ensuring that proper infrastructure, including roads, water, sewer and broadband, is in place along the trail to help facilitate private development.

“I agree that the ATV industry is one of the biggest opportunities that we have,” Swope said. “I think where the state comes in is providing the roads, infrastructure and business climate.”

Seay said the ATV growth in Mingo County can be duplicated in Mercer County.

“I think the state needs to be doing everything it can to help the Hatfield-McCoy Trail,” Seay said. “You can go into Mingo County and Matewan. It is still a small town but they have a nice trailhead there. You can’t go through that town during the warmer months without seeing four-wheelers in the area. What we need to do is the state government and state Senate needs to provide temporary tax incentives to put in an Applebees, or restaurant or whatever it is it, to get the jobs in there. If we can get those businesses in there it will provide jobs and put money in the pocket of local workers. That is actually how we reinvigorate the economy as a whole.”

Swope said new public-private partnerships also can help when it comes to projects like the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.

Both men also expressed support for the idea of enhancing Pinnacle Rock State Park in Bluewell, including the possibility of building a zip line in the area, as a way to provide added local attractions to those out-of-town ATV riders who are traveling to Bramwell in Mercer County, and Ashland in McDowell County.

Both Seay and Swope are natives of McDowell County, and both talked about ways to help the still struggling county.

Seay completing both the Coalfields Expressway and the King  Coal Highway is critical to the future of McDowell County. He said increased efforts also are needed to attract qualified teachers in the county.

Swope agreed that the county needs a four-lane highway, along with help in attracting and retaining qualified teachers. 

Swope said the drug problem also is hurting McDowell County.

Both candidates were asked if they supported the removal of turnpike tolls from the 88-mile West Virginia turnpike come 2019, which is when the original bond indebtedness associated with the creation of the toll road is due to be paid in full. Swope said he supports removing the tolls if West Virginia can afford it. Seay said he is opposed to the removal of the tolls — adding that revenue generated from the tolls could be put to better use in other areas.

“I prefer the removal, but I’m not for sure we can afford it in 2019,” Swope said.

“As I said here today I’m against the removal,” Seay said. “Of course that is subject to change.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline

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