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Consider this voter’s guide to assess candidates

August 26, 2018

As we weigh our choices for the upcoming elections, I suggest that we each take a deep breath and step back from ongoing controversies over investigations, corruption, “witch hunts” and cover-ups and consider carefully several significant, interrelated domestic issues likely sooner than we realize to have a great impact on our lives and those of our children and grandchildren.

Economy

Currently, all signs are positive. The stock market is strong, unemployment low and economic growth high. Yet, nearly all projections are that the already massive federal deficit will balloon out of sight over the next 10-20 years and the interest on the national debt will soon consume nearly the entire federal government budget.

How can we sustain current levels of Social Security and Medicare during that time? How can we achieve more equitable income levels when it seems the gap between the wealthiest among us and the middle class (let alone those with lower incomes) only grows wider?

In our understandable effort to protect current jobs and industries, do we restrict innovation, inventiveness and finally our ability to compete and grow? Will we win or lose as a nation and a state from trade wars?

Closer to home, how can an “extractive” state like West Virginia (and others such as Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, etc.) diversify their economies and provide worthwhile jobs that will enable their best and brightest to stay home?

Environment

We only have this one world and there is reason for some concern about its longevity. Scientists have documented that temperatures and ocean levels are rising inexorably.

Are we doing as much as we can to ensure that future generations will enjoy the same clean air and water and beautiful vistas that we have cherished? It is, of course, not a static world but a dynamic one. How can we balance environmental protections with economic growth? Can we do both? How can we regulate auto emissions to protect clean air without jeopardizing auto manufacturing jobs?

Again, closer to home, how can West Virginia coal industry jobs be protected and even grown without generating unacceptable levels of air and water pollution? The question of economic diversification recurs: How much economic and/or environmental pain can be averted by diversifying and growing our economy?

We should also consider the outlook for those outdoor treasures of America that are the envy of the world — our magnificent national, state and local parks, forests and other public lands. Not only have we fallen far short in our obligations to preserve and maintain them, but proposals have been made to reduce or sell some of those lands. Is this the best our nation can do?

One of the largest sources of well paying jobs nationally is the travel and tourism industry, with particularly great potential for our beautiful Mountain State. For that potential to be realized will require smart, coordinated government policies combining targeted tourism infrastructure development, preservation of our matchless mountain beauty and environment, training of our talented workforce and continued, even expanded, marketing of our state as a destination regionally, nationally and internationally. What priority do the candidates give to the enhancement of travel and tourism?

Infrastructure

As President Trump has rightly declared, the state of our nation’s physical infrastructure is shameful. Roads, bridges, airports, air traffic control systems, seaports — all too often either in a state of decay or outmoded. Deteriorating ancient public utilities face the same challenges.

These issues are not that complex. Politicians at all levels of government know what needs to be patched, repaired, modernized or replaced. What appears to be lacking is the political will to approve the increases in taxes and/or fees necessary to do the job. (Credit should be given West Virginia voters who recognized this need and approved a massive roads bond issue to deal with it. But what have our representatives in Washington done about it on the national level?)

Should we not also consider our public education systems as a vital part of our intellectual infrastructure? Without an educated citizenry, without maximizing the potential of all our people regardless of race, religion or geographic location, none of these other issues will ever be resolved. Yet we repeatedly shortchange our schools through low teacher salaries, inadequate facilities and insufficient supplies and equipment.

Where do the candidates stand when it comes to the priority of a good education for all our people?

Openness and fairness

We can have a long debate about everything that makes our great country so great, but I hope we can agree that a unique strength of America has always been its diversity and openness. Since the Pilgrims, we have, with few exceptions, been a refuge for those fleeing persecution and a beacon for those with ambition and determination. We have truly been that “Shining City on the Hill.” Do the candidates see and agree with that vision?

And once here, at least since the Civil War, this nation has nearly always strived to treat all immigrants fairly and equally, favoring neither religious beliefs, racial identities nor national origins. Are the candidates willing to condemn prejudice and bigotry regardless of the source or the target?

The candidate(s)

Most voters know there are no perfect candidates. They are humans who must deal with serious and complex issues, usually without the public resources to do everything at once. Politicians have to make hard choices. But there are a few factors that we might consider.

Successful political experience and an understanding of the history of our nation and state are invaluable and desirable but not sufficient. What I believe to be more important is a personal history of adhering to those standards of morality, ethics, honesty and courage that we have admired since at least the ancient Greeks. Most politicians are proud and ambitious and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as they strive to succeed and advance by serving the needs and interests — both short and long term — of us all.

So, we have more questions about more issues than at this time we have answers, but let us see what the candidates have to say.

Aubrey C. King, a 1963 graduate of Marshall University, recently retired to Huntington after nearly 50 years as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and university lecturer at the University of Maryland and George Washington University.

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