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West Virginia candidate for governor Woody Thrasher speaks at Monday's Central West Virginia Republican Women's Club meeting. Also pictured are moderator Caiden Cowger and club president LeVera Gillum.

Gunning for governor: Thrasher, Folk field questions at CWVRW meeting

BUCKHANNON – Members of the community and Central West Virginia Republican Women’s Club on Monday had a chance to meet the candidates running for governor in the May 2020 Primary Election.

The club, headed by president LeVera Gillum, invited the three candidates to come speak with area constituents. Michael Folk and Woody Thrasher traveled to Buckhannon to answer questions and share their views with area folks. Gov. Jim Justice did not attend the forum; however, he sent a member of his re-election campaign, Summer Ratcliff.

Gillum welcomed the more than 60 attendees who gathered at the BiCentennial Inn/88 Restaurant & Lounge at 6:30 p.m. for the event.

“I believe there has been a lot of excitement in and around Buckhannon in the last few days since we announced that the three Republican gubernatorial candidates had been invited as our guests,” Gillum said.

First, the candidates had 15 minutes to introduce themselves; following that, candidates responded to questions members of the audience submitted before the event. The moderator for the evening was Caiden Cowger, conservative radio talk show host and the owner of The Mountaineer Journal.

Woody Thrasher, who co-founded The Thrasher Group with his father in 1983, said Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley invited him down for a tour of Buckhannon recently. He was impressed, saying he thinks he’s never seen Buckhannon look better and more vibrant than it does now.

“I grew up and am a lifelong resident of Harrison County,” Thrasher said. “I returned home when I was 24 years old. I am a third-generation civil engineer and I returned home and decided after working for four years to start our own firm. We started the Thrasher Group in 1983 with myself, my father and our office manager.”

“Today, that company employees 700 people and we have 11 offices in seven states,” Thrasher added.

Thrasher formerly served as Justice’s secretary of commerce but resigned in June 2018 at Justice’s request.

Thrasher said he believes it’s his job to create jobs, and in an effort to do so, he’s toured the Mountain State extensively.

“You will not meet anybody anywhere across West Virginia that knows the state better than I do,” Thrasher said. “I drove 58,000 miles trying to generate work for 20 years. In those 36 years, there are only three communities that have grown in size – Martinsburg, Morgantown and Teays Valley.”

He said the vast majorities of communities across West Virginia have seen a decline.

“Last year, West Virginia lost 11,000 people,” he said. “We have lost people for 20 years in a row. We are the only state in the union to lose population for 20 years in a row – little ole West Virginia with 1.8 million people – has lost more people than any other state in the union.”

Thrasher said the reason for the population decline is a lack of economic opportunities.

“Most of the kids that leave, and they are mostly kids or recent graduates, leave because they do not believe they have opportunities here,” he said. “They go other places where they are extremely successful. It breaks my heart to see where West Virginia is going.”

He said he feels West Virginia desperately needs to turn a corner.

“I do not believe we are going in the right direction now,” he stressed.

Thrasher said the key is to create opportunities for young people that will incentivize them to stay in the state.

“One key element would be to empower the communities which have declined,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to have infrastructure. One particular item is the lack of broadband [high-speed internet]. If you do not have cell service, and you do not have broadband, no one wants to move there.”

He said West Virginia received grant monies for internet and the money was given to Frontier Communications, which “installed copper wire instead of fiber and installed an antiquated system.” He said as a businessperson he knows how to run a business efficiently and said the government needs to be run much more efficiently.

Turning to the tourism industry, Thrasher said he doesn’t feel like the state has adequately told the story of West Virginia to people outside the Mountain State.

“Today, when you look at attracting young people, quality of life is a big issue,” he said. “There is no place where that is better than West Virginia – we have the lowest crime rate, great affordable housing – we have issues with education and workforce training, but fundamentally, the people who come out of West Virginia are incredibly strong and successful and good at what they do.”

Thrasher said the primary reason he is running for governor is that, “it breaks his heart to see the direction West Virginia is going.”

“The state is at a crossroads, and if it isn’t turned around in the very near future, West Virginia will have a very hard time digging out of the hole it is in,” he said.

Thrasher said he’s in passionate about the possibility of being governor.

“I am doing exactly what I want to do in running for governor for the State of West Virginia,” he said. “If I am fortunate enough to have that honor and that responsibility, I will do my best to run this state the same way I ran my companies and the same way I raised my three boys. It is not a popularity contest. It’s about doing what’s right. It’s about doing what is best for the State of West Virginia in the long haul.”

Folk, the second gubernatorial candidate, said he is an airline pilot by trade and is running for office because in 2008, he was laid off by the airlines.

“The more I researched things, the more I realized it comes back to government,” Folk said. “Government is not the answer.”

Gubernatorial candidate Michael Folk answers questions Monday evening at the Central West Virginia Republican Women’s Club meeting at the BiCentennial Inn.

He said he holds a degree in economics, has completed a fair amount of education courses and possesses a strong background in mathematics. Folk is a former West Virginia House of Delegates member.

“I know how to read a balance sheet,” Folk said. Although he had some scholarships, he worked two jobs to put himself through college, he added.

“West Virginia is a state that thinks government can solve its problems,” Folk said. “It’s not the government that is going to solve its problems, whether it’s the drug epidemic or keeping families here. The only thing it can do is remove the inventory and equipment tax.”

Folk said another issue is a lack of free market in health care in West Virginia.

“We don’t have a free market in West Virginia because of the Certificate of Need,” Folk said. “I put a bill in to abolish it or greatly reduce the Certificate of Need. There is a guy who works doing imaging … in Ohio, the cost is $50. When he works in West Virginia, he has to work through a hospital and the cost is $500 to $800 for the same thing. If you want to get people into the state, one of the things needed is lower health care costs.”

According to the West Virginia Health Care Authority’s website, in West Virginia, all health care providers, unless exempt, are required to secure a Certificate of Need prior to adding or expanding health care services, exceeding a certain capital expenditure threshold, purchasing major medical equipment or building or acquiring new health care facilities.

Folk said he is future-oriented.

“Other places are growing – Berkley County is growing for two reasons,” he said. “One is the federal government and the other is Interstate-81. I am running for office because the two gentlemen I am running against are the past. I believe my ideas are the future.”

Summer Ratcliff spoke on behalf of Justice.

“The governor offers his regrets he could not attend tonight,” Ratcliff said. “Governor Justice has a tremendous record of conservative accomplishments during his time in office so far. Under his administration, West Virginia has led the nation in the second quarter this year in GDP growth (gross domestic product), balanced the budget without raising taxes, started and has continued unprecedented new investment in roads and bridges, posted record breaking job growth, recorded low unemployment rates, and Governor Justice worked hard to see the passage of Amendment 1.”

Amendment 1 specified that no part of West Virginia’s Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion or requires public funding of abortions.

Ratcliff said the reality is, West Virginia cannot go back to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Although he has yet to make a definitive announcement, Manchin has confirmed he’s considering a run for governor in 2020.

“He will undo all of the great progress we have been making,” Ratcliff said. “I truly believe the best way to make sure we do not have another Manchin administration and we continue on the path of great success is to unite around Governor Justice.”

Following Monday’s event, Gillum expressed her gratitude to the candidates for their participation in the forum and urged voters to make educated decisions at the ballot box in May.

“The Central West Virginia Republican Women were happy to host this event for the candidates,” she said. “It was great to learn more about them and their campaigns. With the primary just a few months away, we need to get to know the candidates in all campaigns so that we can make an educated and informed decision when we vote.”

The club is currently accepting members, and registered Republican women are invited to join; dues are $17. Registered Republican men may join as associate members, and dues are $10. Meetings take place the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at eh BiCentennial Inn/88 Restaurant & Lounge.

“As a club, we must work hard to positively impact our state and nation while strengthening our Republican Party by recruiting, educating, training, supporting and electing Republicans,” Gillum added.

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