Many of the Marshall County Republican Party faithful took advantage of an opportunity to see up close and personal their party’s leading candidate for governor in 2016.
West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole came to the annual Marshall County Republican Executive Committee Lincoln Day Dinner as the keynote speaker. In a brief but wide-ranging interview at the A & B Kia Banquet Hall, Cole gave some thoughts on Abraham Lincoln – while also outlining the manner in which he believes state government has to run.
“It all goes back to the days our state was created,” Cole said. “And it was out of slavery, out of one man’s leadership. And the centralized part of it is because – we had the ‘southern sympathizers’ and the ‘northern loyalists.’ Of course, we started in Wheeling, as the state’s capitol, and we had to control those ‘bad guys in the south.’ And I guess I’m one of them,” Cole said with a slight chuckle, adding the Civil War was long over. “’Charleston’ doesn’t know what’s best all the time. But we certainly know what we need in the northern panhandle, and those needs are different than perhaps what’s going on in the southern part of the state.”
When asked about President Obama’s upcoming visit to the state capitol, Cole first struck a middle tone. “I’m happy for the help, I’ll take whatever help we can get in this state to fight our growing drug epidemic.” Shifting to criticism, Cole continued. “I find it ironic that the very man that has put our state in such turmoil with the, the absolute ‘War on Coal’ — I tell you, when we put people out of work, and ‘hope’ goes to ‘hopelessness’ — we’re feeding the drug epidemic in massive proportions.”
The best way to fight the substance abuse problem in West Virginia, Cole went on, was to create an economy which put people back to work, eliminating much demand for illegal drugs.
As for the future, Cole talked about the state budget challenges to come. Both state and county governments in West Virginia depend on severance tax revenue from coal to fund operations. A decline in coal shipments means difficult choices for those running West Virginia government. Cole points out current Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced a $250 million revenue shortfall within the past month.
“That comes in a four percent – another four percent cut in government, and one percent in the schools. County and city governments can’t afford it. The school system – my goodness, they can’t take the hit. Yet we continue to spiral down, and we figure ways to ‘save our way into prosperity.’ That day has to stop,” Cole said.
Former Republican Jim Justice and current Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler have announced bids to run against Cole as the Democrat Party candidate for the governor’s seat. Another possible opponent, Booth Goodwin, now serves as U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. Goodwin will likely make his decision to run – or not – after the end of the Don Blankenship trial.