The Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce held the second of three scheduled candidate-debates on the evening of Tuesday, October 13. The debate featured candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates in Districts 10 and 42, including Democratic incumbents Cindy Lavender Bowe and Jeff Campbell, and their Republican opponents Barry Bruce and Todd Longanacre.
The Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce is an apolitical and non-partisan organization. While they both sponsored and facilitated the debate, the GGCC remains an unbiased, neutral entity. Ashley Vickers, Executive Director of the GGCC served as moderator for the debate.
The first question posed to the candidates was: “Will each of you please detail your involvement in bettering the community in the past five-years?”
Barry Bruce was the first to answer.
“I’ve been involved with the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, (State, not county) which I’ve been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and I’ve been politically active in supporting candidates,” Bruce said. “If there’s something I think needs to be addressed in the community, I volunteered. In the flood time I gave both time and energy and money to help the flood victims. I consider myself a community activist, but also a faith based person.”
Todd Longanacre answered next.
“In the past five-years, which is about the time that I’ve been back home. I just retired from the United States Army in 2015,” Longanacre said. “I came home and less than a year later we got hit with the big flood of 2016. I personally delivered probably close to two-tons of cleaning supplies throughout Greenbrier County with a little loose-knit organization that I put together. We went out, knocked on doors and helped people. I myself crawled into homes, pulled out carpet and pulled out ruined furniture, to try and get these folks back on their feet.”
Longanacre also stated that he sheltered 16 W.Va. National Guard combat medics in his home while on deployment in Greenbrier County for relief efforts.
Next was Jeff Campbell.
“For the past five-years, plus 15 beyond that, I’ve been a public school teacher here in Greenbrier County.” Campbell said. “I’ve also served on the legislature for the past three-years. And one of the bills in my first year was helping to pass SB 500. That gave White Sulphur Springs access to the $1 million that it had from the sale of the airport to the Greenbrier back in 1985. The City had not been able to spend any of that money. It took legislative action for them to be able to spend the interest on that money, and I was a part of helping to get that bill passed.”
Campbell also stated that he has been able to help as many as 25-area residents resolve issues with Workforce West Virginia during the pandemic.
Last to answer the first question was Cindy Lavender Bowe.
“My background has been filled with service. I was a founder of the Greater Greenbrier Valley Flood Recovery Committee,” Bowe said. “I helped to set that organization up and I was the coordinator for all supplies and distribution that were initially coming into the county. I did that in affiliation with my church in Lewisburg, where I’ve served as the Senior Warden. I have a background as the executive director of the United Way. While I was there, food and security became my passion. So I revived funding for the food and security program.”
Bowe further stated that she has served on the Boy Scouts Committee, and several other committees and groups within the Greenbrier Valley.
The second question posed to the candidates was, “How will you support tourism in this region? Will you pledge to support continued and increased funding to the West Virginia Tourism office to market West Virginia as a destination?”
Bowe was the first to answer.
“As I mentioned a minute ago, I’ve served on the Greenbrier Valley CVB marketing advisory team,” she said. “I’ve written and applied for the grant funding for multiple organizations in the community. And we saw that money basically dry up. So I saw the struggle that our small businesses and our nonprofits and our organizations have faced since that funding has diminished. I’m very supportive of tourism, and any kind of legislation that comes across my desk that I see will return importance of funding tourism. Our biggest industry in this state should be tourism. There’s no place more beautiful. We need to dream big and bring people here.”
Campbell was the next to speak.
“The answer is yes, and I have done that here in the past three-years,” Campbell began. “For every dollar spent on tourism, it produces $8 in returns. So there’s an 8:1 yield on that. I’ve also tried on two separate occasions to support the film tax-credit that helps benefit the state of W.Va., but that has been shot down by the majority. Locally here we’ve got Greenbrier Valley Theatre, we’ve got Carnegie Hall, the Greenbrier, Greenbrier River Trail and so many more destinations in out area in terms of tourism. I am a strong supporter of tourism in W.Va.”
Barry Bruce then provided his response.
“Up until the pandemic, I thought that tourism was really growing in this area,” Bruce said. “Some clients and some people I knew in the westend had a campground started and everything was going full-blast and going good. God has blessed us with such a beautiful area, and a gentleman was in my office today who is moving here from the Maryland area, and he chose this area. We have so much to offer, but we’ve got to expand. It’s just not Lewisburg, it’s the whole county. And I think we’ve got to look at the Meadow River Valley Trail and get that done, build up that area for expansion. But we need to get the infrastructure. We need to get the internet around this area.”
Longanacre offered the final answer to the question.
“I agree with Cindy that we need to be bold, and we need to dream big dreams when it comes to tourism,” he began. “I think I’m the only one on this platform that used to work full-time in that industry. I actually have worked with the Division of State Parks and Natural Resources. I have managed State Parks and Wildlife Management areas. I can tell you what we were able to accomplish in Monroe County, not only were we able to reach out and secure a $10,000 grant that jump started a lot of the things we put back into the State Park, bringing electricity into that lower campground for the first time ever. Putting a stage which is still hopefully yet to be fully completed. But my vision was to see that area of the District be a place that people could come and do concerts.”
The next question was: “The Meadow River Valley has been crippled by job-loss and increasing homeless population since the 2016 flood. What plans, if any, do you have to revitalize this area, and restore hope for the citizens that are living there?”
Bruce was first to answer.
“We have to address the drug problem right now,” Bruce started. “Personally being there and walking the streets and knocking on doors and talking to citizens, it’s a problem we have to address.”
Bruce explained that he wants to see the formation of a summit between those in the county necessary to address the problem. Bruce also noted a lack of resources in the most heavily affected areas as a contributing factor.
“We have to address this as a county,” Bruce said. “It’s not the east-end, it’s not the west-end. We’re in this together until the end. We have to address this together.”
Longanacre was next to answer.
“I’ve given a lot of thought to the western-end; I’ve done a lot of hunting out there,” Longanacre said. “It’s a beautiful place. The Meadow River Valley has been ignored. I will tell you this: we have the opportunity to increase tourism to that area, Not only with the River Trail, but if we could look at ways of cutting spending in other agencies that is purely wasteful stuff, redirecting some of that money into reclaiming or purchasing some of that land to make our own south-eastern W.Va. version of the Hatfields and McCoys Trail, that would be just one thing we could do to create some economic spin-off in that area.”
Delegate Bowe then spoke.
“I’m really excited about the possibilities attached to the development of the Meadow River Trail,” she said. “On a personal level, My husband and I, a couple years ago, we started a company that’s patented technology, and we are working in the western-end, and if and when the funding is secured on this climate-shelter we’ve been developing, we have every intention of locating that company there. I mention that because I believe that the solutions don’t always come from government…they come from citizens thinking outside the box, being created and trying to give folks a chance.”
Campbell answered next.
“This started before the 2016 flood. It actually started after 1988 when the interstate was completed,” Campbell said. “The Meadow River Valley is very important. We have an opportunity to promote that area. Midland Trail runs on route 60 all the way from White Sulphur Springs into Huntington.”
Campbell went on to explain that this was once the primary road for traveling to Charleston. He then stated that route 60 is still the route for several destination-locations.
“We have to improve the roads on route 60 and route 20. This didn’t start in 2016. The first domino began during the interstate expansion back in 1988.”
The fourth question posed to the candidates was: “Arts organizations across the state have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. As a leader in the state that relies heavily on cultural tourism what specific legislative-efforts would you advance to support these institutions?”
Campbell was the first to answer.
“One thing I think the Governor has $1.25-billion in CARES Act money that could be used to help save some of these institutions,” Campbell said. “I was working with the State Fair over the summer trying to get some of that funding. The State Fair obviously having to cancel was in dire straits in terms of their long-term future. There’s money there through the CARES Act if the Governor would release some of those funds for some of those opportunities.”
Bowe was next to speak.
“To echo what Del. Campbell said; it’s regretful that we have not been called back into session,” she said. “The legislature has the responsibility of approving spending, and we haven’t been there to do that.”
Bowe further explained that they have not had the opportunity to discuss state spending. Going forward, she believes that Legislature must ensure funding remains available for arts programs.
Longanacre offered his answer.
“I am 100% artsy,” he said. “Sometimes I can even draw stick-figures.”
Longanacre explained that he plays in a band. Due to the pandemic, his band (which acts as his part-time job) has lost approximately $15,000 in revenue. He went on to express his support for a future bill that would allow tax-breaks to those working a part-time or “hobby” job.
Bruce was the last to provide his answer to the question.
“It’s a difficult question for me because the pandemic has hurt our state so much,” he said. “Restaurants, the fairs and festivals have been devastated by it and my heart goes out to them.”
Bruce feels that the idea of dispersing money equally to those affected is difficult, but offered support to the governor’s attempts to do so.
“It’s something that has to be looked at.”
Question number five was: “What is your stance on the Fairness Act? What is you plan for promoting equality and inclusion for all people within the district, no matter their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation?”
Bruce was the first to answer.
“I plan on following the law, and encourage everybody to follow the law. That’s the law and that’s what we do,” Bruce said. “We implement it the same way we’ve implemented every other statute: equal and unbiased.”
Bruce stated that he does not see a dilemma with this issue.
“No one has the right to be prejudiced. If you’re prejudiced then you shouldn’t hold office.”
Longanacre answered next.
“I got paid to be a soldier for 30-years,” Longanacre said. “We didn’t ask what color you were, what gender you were, what sexual orientation you were. We fought and would possibly give our lives so that Bill of Rights would apply to you no matter all this other craziness. Lady Liberty wears a blindfold for a reason.”
Next to speak was Campbell.
“There have been efforts the last couple of years to run this Fairness Act, but it hasn’t run,” he said. “It likely will not run. In terms of discrimination, it shouldn’t happen. Regardless of who you are, what color skin you have, or who you choose to love. I agree with what Barry said a moment ago, you have to follow the law. It’s that simple.”
Bowe was the last to answer the question.
“I wholeheartedly support the Fairness Act. I’m a sponsor of that act and the fact of the matter is we make the laws, not just follow them,” Bowe said. “I think that freedom from discrimination is the right of all people. You shouldn’t be able to be fired from your job or evicted from your home for any reason of who you love, or your gender identity.”
The next question was: “What is your position on cannabis legalization, including home-grown option for medical cannabis card-holders, and expungement for non-violent cannabis offenders?”
Jeff Campbell was first to answer.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure we get our medical cannabis legislation through and established. I think once that happens people will maybe take a look at it a little differently,” Del. Campbell said. “In terms of the home-grown, if you have the license, I don’t see any issues with that.”
Next to answer was Del. Bowe.
“I think its important to fix the legislation that’s already passed. We need immediate legalization of medical cannabis,” she said. “We need the barriers removed. This program needs to be happening now, not a year from now.”
Bowe went on to state that she believes legislation should include the ability for medical cannabis card-holders to produce home-grown cannabis.
Bruce then answered.
“I use CBD oil, it makes my life a lot easier,” he began. “I know it works. So, to that degree, I certainly support it.
However, Bruce does not support the use of home-grown cannabis without the ability to regulate.
“I don’t see how you regulate it. I really hope you could, but I have not seen any way to regulate it. If something comes up and it can be regulated, then I’d be all for it.”
Lonanacre was last to provide his response.
“For medical use, I’m 100% for it,” Longanacre said. “But not for recreational use.”
It should be noted that none of the four candidates provided an answer to the question of expungement for non-violent cannabis offenders.
Question number seven was regarding local business.
“What can you do better to support local businesses during a pandemic?”
Longanacre was the first to answer.
“Again, there’s always that stubborn Bill of Rights,” he began. “How about leave the business owner alone and let them decide to assume the risk of opening their business or not. Let them decide how they’re going to protect their clients and their customers. For an individual in a tie somewhere or a group of individuals to infringe upon our constitutional rights to tell us what we can and cannot do, especially in a pandemic having a 99.4% survivability rate even if you do get infected, I think its ludicrous to shut down businesses because, as President Trump said, the lockdown is probably far worse off than the pandemic itself.”
Bruce answered next.
“Ordering food out, by going to restaurants when they are open outside,” Bruce said. “I think we need to make an effort to do that. But I’m like Todd, I think some of the restrictions are too much. Restaurants have been hurting really bad in our county and district. I think we’ve got to use good judgement, but we’ve got to open up.”
Campbell was next to respond.
“I think businesses should be able to decide what works best for them as long as they follow the guidelines,” Campbell said. “I think we need to not take as many trips to Beckley and Roanoke to shop, and try to do as much of that as we can locally.”
Bowe was last to offer her response.
“We have been working with our local businesses,” Bowe said. “We’ve been helping them to navigate unemployment issues and the ever-changing guidelines for virus-containment and access the funding that was available. I do think there’s a lot more that could have been done with the CARES Act that came down from the Federal Government. And on a personal level, we have to remember our small businesses and support our neighbors.”
The eighth question was regarding White Sulphur Springs and Ronceverte.
“They both have exciting developments underway. What are some of the things you can do to bring our communities together to provide more resources for their development?”
Campbell was the first to answer.
“I’ve spoken to WSS Mayor Bruce Bowling who has unveiled some plans to me that he has for a potential lake in WSS up Big Draft Road,” he began. “That can be an exciting project, not only for WSS but our entire District of Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers County to be able to draw people in. WSS has received such a revitalization recently. You’re seeing the benefits of that and the investments in WSS. Also Ronceverte has picked up quite a bit, as well.”
Bowe spoke next.
“Just to touch on what Jeff already mentioned, I think that those communities are doing exactly what we need our communities to do. They’re coming together and they’re putting forth the effort,” she said. “WSS, after the flood they really came together under their Mayor, and we’re really seeing that community grow as I have a business located on Main St. in WSS. We have seen it flourish. We’re seeing now similar things happening in Ronceverte with the Friends of Ronceverte Groups that’s working on clean-up and neighborhood beautification and becoming involved in what’s happening in City Council.”
Longanacre was next to speak.
“Love both of those communities,” he started. “I can remember being a little boy in Ronceverte, and when it was booming, going and standing in line amongst several-thousand people, waiting to get my Christmas stocking at Christmas time. The Island Park full of people, and you know what? I am confident that with the right leadership in Charleston, those days can return. And one way to do it, is to get off the backs of our business people.”
Bruce was last to answer.
“First we need to thank President Trump because both of those communities identify as opportunity zones, which leads to some economic development help if we can put the plans together and get the grant writers in there to do the writing,” Bruce said. “We need help to get grant writers in for these organizations to get the monies available.”
Bruce went on to address minimum wage, explaining that it is not logistically-feasible to increase the current minimum-wage to $12 per hour, as it would be detrimental to small businesses.
The final question of the night was: “Many parents are struggling with being their kid’s teacher 20-plus hours per week, as well as trying to work a job or run a business. What ideas do you have to return to school safely and full-time?”
Barry Bruce was the first to offer a response.
“I know a lot of parents well, and it is taxing. I think it’s time to seriously look to open these schools back up,” Bruce said. “First of all, you understand that younger children don’t have the risk factor that older adults do. I think with safety procedures, masks and a little better social distancing, we can open them up better than they are today. And I think its time to do that.”
Longanacre was next to answer.
“I am an educator, as is Jeff,” he began. “And I think Cindy at one time was a public school teacher, as well. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I love the opportunity to be in the classroom with my students. Just like Barry said, if we start paying attention to the science and not the ‘heads in the sand’ fear tactics, I think we can get back to school.”
Campbell then responded.
“I think once our transmission rate gets lower, I think we’ll be able to get back,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it will happen within the nine-weeks, but maybe after January, after the semester break. If we get a vaccine, I think that will speed things along. Honestly the biggest obstacle that we have from a teaching standpoint, are the technology issues that we have. We have students who have a Chromebook for the first time and have not really been trained how to use those. We also have broadband issues. So in terms of getting back to school, I think I can speak for all the teachers in the County, we want to get back.”
Bowe was the last to respond.
“We have to follow the science on this,” Bowe said. “I think Greenbrier County Schools has had one of the best re-entry plans in the state. They are taking it cautiously, but also, the schools are open. Most kids are going, especially at the elementary level. It’s historically a difficult time in this country and state, and we’re trying to do the best we can as parents.”
At this point, each of the four candidates were allotted two-minutes for their closing statements. Delegate Cindy Lavender Bowe was the first to offer her remarks.
“Nationally, W.Va. ranks 44th in the overall well-being of our children. We’re 37th in health, and we’re 48th economically. We have almost 90,000 West Virginia children living in poverty, and 2.8% of our children are considered homeless. We’ve got to be better for our kids. As a legislator, it is my priority to make informed decisions that benefit the lives of children in West Virginia.”
Bowe concluded with: “It’s time to make it easier for working families to thrive in West Virginia. And now, more than ever, you need strong candidates who will stand up for you.”
Delegate Jeff Campbell was the next to provide his closing statement.
“When I took office in 2017, I did so knowing the honor and privilege it is to serve this District, where I’ve lived my entire life, born and raised. Serving you in the House of Delegates has always been a dream for me. The men and women who have served us in the State Legislature over the years have left big shoes to fill, and this is a duty that I take very seriously.”
Campbell concluded with: “I would like to thank the other candidates for running clean, positive campaigns. We have a responsibility to work for the people, for all those who voted for us, and all those who didn’t.”
Next to provide their closing remarks was Barry Bruce.
“We need conservative leaders in the legislature to defend constitutional rights, and our way of life,” Bruce said. “Don’t let radicalism sneak into the Greenbrier Valley. I humbly ask for your vote.”
Todd Longanacre was the final candidate of the evening to speak.
“I want to thank all the listeners in the community for tuning it,” he began. “You’re showing us that you care about the community, and the political process, so thank you. I hope that, if you were on the fence tonight with how you were going to vote, I do hope that this debate helped you to make up your mind. You heard which candidates will support the continued success of the Trump Administration.”
Longanacre concluded by saying: “To summarize, a vote for Todd Longanacre is a vote to defend your Bill of Rights. It’s a vote for incentivizing businesses to come to our community, not to run away. A vote for Longanacre is a vote for less taxation, a smaller, less-intrusive government in your life, its a vote for the right to keep and bear arms, the rule of law and our First Responders. It’s a vote for the right to worship, and not be persecuted by statists wearing ties. More importantly, a vote for Longanacre is a vote for the preciousness of life.”
Election day in West Virginia and the United States is Tuesday, November 3.