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Will candidates hear what voters really want?

April 14, 2019

Ayear from now, we will be kneedeep in politics as voters prepare for primary elections the following month.

Despite the number of Democratic Party presidential wannabes who are making the rounds of talk shows and town halls this month, by April 2020 the field should be sufficiently winnowed that West Virginia will have little or no impact on the nomination process.

While the presidential race will grab attention, West Virginia voters will have some choices to make, too. One will be for governor. Will the incumbent — Democrat-turned-Republican Jim Justice — try for a second term, or will members of his party talk him out of it? And what Democrats will come forward to try for the office?

For whatever reasons, the list of announced candidates is small at the moment. It will grow longer as we approach the filing deadline early next year. Whoever runs, we ask they consider these things as they go through their monthslong job interview:

Something is wrong in Charleston. Some of it was there before Justice and the current crop of officeholders took the reins of power, but for now it’s their responsibility. Voters can’t help but feel a nagging doubt that the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court have gone off the track in their duties.

Other than people employed within the system, who really thinks public schools in West Virginia are doing an outstanding job of taking students from prekindergarten through 12th grade and making them competitive academically with graduates of most other states? Who expects it to change soon?

State funding for higher education keeps going down, which helps force the price of tuition and fees upward. The Legislature recently approved and the governor signed a bill that makes attending a community and technical college practically free, but state support and student costs remains a problem in the four-year college and university system.

What happened with the response to the 2016 floods? Floods in the Elk River Valley, the Richwood area and elsewhere ravaged communities. The federal government provided millions of dollars in relief funds, but recovery has been slow, and indications are that state and local governments were not up to the task of steering that money to where it needed to be in a timely manner.

And in case you haven’t heard, roads are a sore point with many voters.

Demographically, West Virginia is in trouble. More people are dying in the Mountain State than are being born here, and except for a few areas, such as the Eastern Panhandle, the state is losing people to migration. The largest cities are losing people, and that brings its own set of problems.

That’s a short list of statewide concerns. Each region has its own, of course.

Who will step forward with an acceptable and workable plan for making state government more responsive to the public’s needs? Will it be a career politician or a well-funded outsider?

Right now West Virginia doesn’t have much room for error. Whoever considers running for office next year should be a competent manager who can pave the roads and ensure routine government services run smoothly, but he or she also needs to provide a vision of what West Virginia can be.

Donald Trump won the presidency over Hillary Clinton in part because he offered people who felt they had been left behind the hope that things would get better. It will be interesting to see if next year’s crop of candidates can duplicate Trump’s success in that.