BUCKHANNON – Upshur County met a 2020 West Virginia gubernatorial candidate face-to-face at a town hall meeting Thursday.
Stephen Smith is a Democrat running for governor of West Virginia in the 2020 election; he came to answer constituents’ questions at a town hall meeting at the Opportunity House on Cleveland Avenue.
“This is the richest time in West Virginia history,” Smith said. “We can have the best roads and schools and the highest wages we’ve ever had, but we have to stop letting the ‘good old boys’ rob us. If we keep having a government where we let people who don’t live here, people who run out-of-state, land-owning companies and out-of-state state monopolies and big banks and lobbyists … if we allow them to run the show, they’re going to keep letting the government work through that, but if we take the power back, we get to run it for all of us.”
Smith asked everyone in attendance to think of one thing they would change if they could in an ideal people’s government. Then, he asked everyone in the room to share their “one thing” as well as others’ ideas that particularly moved them.
One person in attendance asked about education in West Virginia. She wanted to know why a best practices program for reading or learning that is known to work isn’t shared between counties or why it can’t be.
Smith responded by asking everyone in the room to raise their hands if they thought there should be mental health professionals stationed in every single school.
He asked attendees if they believed that instead of 20-25 students in a class, class sizes should be limited to 12 to 15 students, and if they thought the zip code that you are born in should determine the quality of your school.
“So, here is the thing,” Smith said. “Ninety percent of us in West Virginia agree on these things and a lot of others. So, the answer to your question is, there is no reason why things have to be different one place to another, and there is plenty of money.”
He said he could give a specific example how much money there is.
“If we actually decided to keep the wealth that we make in this state, income tax, or individual taxes, we would have enough money. If you work at Walmart, about 9 percent of what you make every year is going back to the state of West Virginia,” Smith said. “If you’re Jim Justice, or one of the wealthiest West Virginians, about 4.5 or 5 percent of your wealth is going back to the state of West Virginia.
“This is how you bankrupt an economy. This is how you bankrupt schools is by charging the people who have the least the most, and charging the people who have the most the least. If and when we make these guys pay even the same as the rest of us, it would generate about $525 million a year in new revenue.”
He said the extra revenue could help every student in West Virginia who wants an apprenticeship obtain one — or aid in paying the admission to a technical college, community college or four-year college.
“It is absurd that things are the way they are when we have the wealth that we have,” Smith said. “The only way we’re going to change it is if we go for the heart of it. We can’t do this tweaking around the edges. Let’s make everybody happy. We have to go where the money is. That means making those who’ve been getting rich off us for a long time pay their share.”
Continuing on the theme of wealth distribution, another participant asked about the road bond that was passed recently. The person wanted to know why road conditions are still poor, despite the passage of the bond.
“The answer to that question is they haven’t spent the money yet,” Smith said. “There was an article recently that said they have spent less than 1 percent of the money in the road bond. The bigger answer is that we have a government that gets by not working.”
Another participant asked Smith what he would do to help the children of West Virginia.
“If kids have something to do, they don’t do drugs,” Smith said. “It’s the simplest idea in the world, and is also the one that is most backed up by the science, that societies or countries that have ended the opioid crisis or have reduced drug use by 70, 80 percent, the common denominator of all those places is that they invested big time into things for families and kids and teenagers to do [and be] physically active.”
Smith said he also thinks children need to have a chance to heal by having more mental health professionals available more often.
“I think there’s a whole lot of our kids who also need healing, because of a lot of reasons,” Smith said. “I have a 5-year-old foster son, and he has experienced more trauma in five years, than my wife and I have in our whole lifetimes put together.
“We can and should give him lots of things to do, and he needs a lot beyond that. By putting mental health professionals at every school, we would be able to not just provide one-on-one help … but also help build an environment in the school as a healing environment that talks about ideas of recovery as some people have mentioned.”
“I think that would help him and a lot of other children a lot,” he added.
A participant then asked how Smith intends to help the senior citizen population of West Virginia.
“We have been dramatically cutting the budgets of senior centers for a long time,” Smith said. “We have a lot of people who need home healthcare, who aren’t able to get it, but the other main thing is, we just have to rewrite the tax code, that the people who are scraping by should pay the least, and the people who are getting rich off everybody else should pay the most.
“There is no reason why pensions or Social Security or any other form of income that a senior receives should be taxed. It is an unequal way of doing business because that says the work you did before isn’t valuable, because essentially, you’re being taxed on it twice.”
To learn more about Smith’s stances on various issues, visit his website at www.wvcantwait.com.