As the 2020 general election edges closer, candidates in local races across southern West Virginia, such as the one for District 22 of the House of Delegates, continue to make their case to voters.
House District 22 covers parts of Boone, Lincoln, Logan and Putnam counties and is currently represented by Republicans Zack Maynard of Harts and Joseph “Joe” Jeffries of Culloden. Both Maynard and Jeffries are running for re-election, and they face opposition from Democrats Cecil Silva of Morrisvale and Jeff Eldridge of Alum Creek for the two open seats.
The general election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 3, and polling places will be open despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Early voting is offered Oct. 21-31.
Republican incumbent Zack Maynard of Harts has held office representing House District 22 since 2016. During the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, Maynard was chair of the fire department and emergency medical services committee and was part of the energy, finance, senior citizen issues and infrastructure committees in the House.
In 2020, Maynard was lead sponsor of 16 bills, seven of which have been signed into law.
When asked what goals voters should expect him to pursue if he is elected to a third term, Maynard has several main priorities in mind, including jobs, business development, attacking the drug epidemic and infrastructure. Maynard says jobs need to be created “through the people we have here already” by helping local entrepreneurs get off the ground through public/private partnerships similar to what is available in other states.
Maynard emphasizes expanding broadband infrastructure.
“We have to expand on that even more. I think we need to make sure those dollars get to the hollers that really need it,” Maynard said. “Along with that, we need to hold providers of this internet service accountable. If you’re going to build the infrastructure and give them the money to do it, they could at least provide a good service, and that’s what’s needed.”
Maynard said towers are up for cell phone service to finally be provided through W.Va. 10 from Chapmanville to Huntington “very soon.” The service, he said, will be provided by AT&T.
“Everywhere I go, people either need water — some places still need water, which I think is unbearable and we have to do better than that — but the biggest thing is that we want cell phone service,” Maynard said. “When somebody’s traveling from out of state or somebody’s gone somewhere and we break down, we want to have the security of picking up a phone.”
Emphasizing an aging and declining population throughout the Mountain State, Maynard said a way needs to be found to individualize drug treatment to tackle that epidemic. Maynard says a specific person’s problem needs to be identified and then the right program provided for them — and after they complete the program, help them get back on their feet, even if they have to leave the state for some time.
“We need to take care of these people,” Maynard said. “Our generation has declined. The population that created southern West Virginia that we live in, they’re getting older. They’re not going to be able to do as much as we’ve done.”
Going off that point, Maynard said a better education system that better invests in the state’s youth needs to be established.
Joseph “Joe” Jeffries (R)
Republican incumbent Joseph “Joe” Jeffries of Culloden has represented House District 22 since 2018. His professional work experience includes maintenance manager and truck driver, and he holds an associate degree from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, which he earned in 2008.
“I decided to run for office to ensure the voice of the district was heard loud and clear,” Jeffries said. “Many times over the past several years, I contacted my representatives without ever receiving a response. I wanted that to change, so I decided to run for office. I try my best to respond to everyone I can to ensure I’m legislating according to their wishes. If representatives aren’t communicating with their constituents, then how could they possibly know their wishes?”
During the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, Jeffries was assigned to several committees in the House of Delegates, including agriculture and natural resources, energy, government organization and fire department and emergency medical centers. In 2020, Jeffries was the lead sponsor of 15 bills, four of which have been signed into law.
If re-elected, Jeffries says West Virginia needs to continue being promoted to new companies while also working to make it easier for current employers to stay open by removing burdensome regulations and repealing the business and inventory tax. He also said he wants to ensure coal mines are reopened and stay open by blocking further regulations.
Additionally, Jeffries said he would like some form of tax reform to continue lowering taxes for residents. He has vowed to never support any tax increases.
“Many times, we give businesses tax breaks, and while I agree they need help too, it’s time to give some back to the taxpayers as well,” Jeffries said. “A repeal of personal property tax would be one I would focus on first.”
When asked what industries he thinks can be brought into southern West Virginia, Jeffries said the area is a prime market for manufacturing of all types, which he said could help revitalize the coal mining jobs in the area while also creating other well-paying job opportunities.
On education, Jeffries supports condensing the state’s 55 county board offices into regional offices, which he said would allow for more money to send to teachers and service personnel to lower class sizes and retain teachers with a better pay scale. He noted, however, that he would like to keep the five elected board members in each county.
“When I first ran for office, I ran on the idea of condensing our 55 county board offices into regional offices. I still believe we don’t need to have 55 different board offices,” Jeffries said. “I believe West Virginia would be better served through a regional system where multiple counties administrative duties are handled at one location, with possibly six to nine locations across the state. However, we must be sure to keep our five elected board members in each county to ensure we keep the local voice for making the county-by-county decisions.”
“Quality teachers and lower class sizes, I believe, would help better education in our state by allowing teachers to work more closely with each student or those who may need a little more focus than others,” he added.
Cecil Silva, of the Boone County community of Morrisvale, comes from a blue-collar background, having worked as a coal miner, volunteer firefighter, laborer and construction worker. Originally a candidate for governor, Silva withdrew from that race and decided to mount a bid for the House of Delegates instead, which he said he hopes to represent more fairly if elected.
Silva said the state needs “completely redone from top to bottom,” and some of his biggest goals, if elected, including figuring out a way to pass more refined laws regarding drug offenders, establishing more rehabilitation facilities and better infrastructure. He also noted the lack of many jobs in the area and said he would fight for things like the Rock Creek Development Park, which he said would greatly benefit Boone, Lincoln, Logan and other counties.
Silva lauded the local tourism industry like the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, but said southern West Virginia needs “something that will be there all-year-round” like manufacturing and technology-related jobs. He said better broadband and cellular services need brought into the area to attract such opportunities.
On education, Silva says teachers and school service personnel need a pay raise and a better health insurance plan, adding that PEIA needs “completely redone from top to bottom.” Additionally, he said education needs more funding, noting that many of the state’s school facilities are aging and need modernized.
If elected, Silva says he will accomplish his goals by being a bipartisan lawmaker.
“I would work with Republicans and Democrats, independents — whoever’s there — I would work across the aisle to try to do what I could to better West Virginia,” Silva said, “and what I mean by that is, if there’s something there that I agree with and I believe that it would benefit my district and the state of West Virginia, I’m all for it, but if it’s going to hurt the people or hurt the state, I would not be for it in any way.”
Silva said he would also like to start a program to help the state’s homeless veteran population by partnering with local career centers and stores like Lowes to have tiny homes built for the veterans.
“We have a lot of homeless vets here in West Virginia,” Silva said. “I’d like to try to start a program. I’d like to get the schools involved throughout the whole state and what they do is the career centers try to partner with, like, Lowes and Home Depot and places to help with donating the materials … build these little tiny homes and set up, like, little communities for them. The state of West Virginia has a lot of land that the state owns that is not used. We could take parts of that and turn it into these little communities for the homeless veterans, and they can pay, like, whenever they get a job and everything else, they can go through a certain amount of pay to the state for living there.”
Democratic candidate Jeff Eldridge of Alum Creek has a bachelor of arts degree in education from Marshall University and a master’s degree in counseling, as well as a license in social work. He has worked in foster care and has volunteered as a youth sports coach.
Eldridge is running on his prior experience serving in the House, which he began in 2004 representing District 19. He held that position until 2010 and served as assistant majority whip and later served District 22 from 2012 until 2018.
Eldridge unsuccessfully ran for office in 2002, saying he felt he could do more for his country and community following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That same spirit has led him to run for the House once again.
“I feel like I’ve still got plenty to give to the people,” Eldridge said. “I constantly help people. I constantly receive phone calls, whether it be just advice or whatever the situation may be, but I always try to help people. To me, this is a way I can help a lot of people.”
When asked about specific issues, Eldridge said the number one issue this election is how the state goes forward in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing his foster care background, the second biggest issue for Eldridge is the state’s underprivileged children.
“I think there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in that field on protecting them, whether the abuse be physical, sexual or emotional,” Eldridge said. “In counseling, they teach that abuse is abuse is abuse, whatever the abuse may be.”
Eldridge said he feels the advertising for the state needs to be changed in order to attract commerce, saying citizens need to “rewrite the message” people have about West Virginians. He added that the state’s “retirement state” status needs to be catered to.
“We, as our citizens, need to rewrite the message out there that people have of West Virginians, and we’ve got to do that through advertisement,” Eldridge said. “We have to tell them that, you know, West Virginia is the second oldest state in population. It’s a great place to live, it’s the lowest cost of living. We don’t have hurricanes, we don’t have blizzards, we don’t have major fires like California. We’ve got to rewrite our message on getting people to move to West Virginia, and whether it be an elderly community, which we’re already there … a retirement state, we’ve got to cater to that.”
Eldridge continued by saying that the state’s tourism industry, such as the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, needs to continue to be pushed as well.
On education, Eldridge said he’d like to have roundtables with educators — and that idea extends into other things like business and community efforts. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to listen and try to get the best answer,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge also supports providing a higher salary for hard-to-fill teaching positions like those in math and chemistry. He also supports allowing students to transition into vocational trade programs at grade levels as low as sixth or seventh.
On the drug epidemic, Eldridge said the state needs more rehabilitation facilities, and earlier, noting that the state’s prisons are “busting at the seams now.”