Nance, Worrell focus on education, economy
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of previews The Herald-Dispatch will provide for certain local contested races in the 2018 general election, which will take place Nov. 6.
HUNTINGTON — With the West Virginia House of Delegates’ District 18 seat to be vacated, Democrat Karen Nance and Republic Evan Worrell are vying to replace incumbent Republican delegate Kelli Sobonya, who is currently running for Cabell County Commission.
There is only one seat for District 18, which covers most of southern Cabell County outside Huntington including Salt Rock, and portions of Barboursville and Ona south of U.S. 60.
Nance, 63, most recently served on the Cabell County Board of Education before resigning in March to pursue to the District 18 seat. Nance is owner of The Old House Doctor general construction company and serves on multiple local historic preservation societies.
Worrell, 38, is seeking public office for the first time after previously serving as director for the Cabell County Republican headquarters. Worrell is currently a healthcare data analytics consultant for the Cerner Corporation.
On the issues, both candidates identified securing greater investments for education as one of their top issues, particularly in how it parlays into the state’s greater economic redevelopment plans. Nance and Worrell each supported expanding career technology programs to train a changing workforce, which would be more attractive to new potential businesses.
The two candidates differed, however, on much of the other issues for the best course of actions to court out-of-state investors.
Worrell supports offering more tax incentives to create what he calls as “more business friendly atmosphere” in the state, along with training the state’s current workforce to fill those jobs. This proposal touts “cutting the red tape” on regulatory statutes Worrell said often seem gamed to disproportionately hurt small businesses.
“They just have so many hoops to jump through,” Worrell said. “In my experience, (small business owners) feel like it’s designed for them to fail.”
Nance disagreed that taxes are what keeps outside businesses from setting up in West Virginia - adding that even with the current competitive incentives, companies still relocate elsewhere. Instead, she suggested investing more in public infrastructure, particularly roads, broadband Internet and public schools, that would also benefit all citizens as well as businesses.
“In reality, (businesses) want places with the right amenities and the right people,” Nance said. “Until we do something about those issues, economic development will be difficult.”
Cultivating that human capital also includes drug rehabilitation and fixing the state’s foster care system in the wake of the opioid epidemic - issues both candidates strongly supported.
In particular, Worrell and Nance both suggested that Western Regional Jail become a point for change in recovering the thousands of addicted inmates who enter each year.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen addicts that have made bad decisions,” Worrell said. “They’re not criminal by nature, they’re criminal by their addiction, and I think we need to find programs to get them back on their feet.”
As recovering more of those with addiction dries of the demand for drugs, Nance noted law enforcement still needs more resources in eliminating the supply. Helping the state crime lab expedite its massive evidence workload, she continued, helps both law enforcement and ensures inmates have a speedy trial and spend less time in jail, daily adding to the county’s staggering jail bill.
“We really have to have a broad approach to this, or we’ll never succeed,” Nance said.
Moving onto the next legislative session, finding a permanent solution to funding the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, is a major issue noted by both candidates. While the it has been temporarily funded, Worrell noted it’s not a sustainable solution and was open to the idea of privatizing PEIA.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to help our state employees by fixing their insurance program,” Worrell said.
Nance squarely supported funding PEIA through a severance tax on the state’s now-booming natural gas industry, stating that some amount of tax is needed, but not one that would directly affect the citizenry.
“If we need money to fully fund it every year, we’re going to need a tax for that purpose,” Nance said. “Not on our people, but for our natural resources.”
The winner of the general election will take office in January when the 84th West Virginia Legislature convenes in session. Members of the 100-seat House of Delegates serve two-year terms and earn $20,000 per year plus per diem pay.