Tennant highlights need for transparency
HUNTINGTON -- Moving West Virginia ahead will require accountability and innovation, according to Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Natalie Tennant, one of 14 candidates vying for the job.
The 42-year-old Tennant, a Democrat, spoke with The Herald-Dispatch Editorial Board on Wednesday and outlined her plans for increased government transparency, accountability and technological innovations to propel the state forward.
"Folks are asking, 'Why now? Why are you running now?' and I think it's an important time to have this opportunity. We need a new approach, new energy. We are West Virginians who deserve a government that is accountable to them and works as hard as they do," Tennant said. "This government is not my government, but all of ours."
As secretary of state, Tennant said she has already shown the results of increased accountability in her office.
"As governor, I would support a sunshine portal, a transparency initiative. Can you imagine if we say we're going to invest in 'x,' actually being able to see where your tax dollars are going? I've already shown that accountability in the Secretary of State's office and I'm the perfect person to lead that forward," she said. "If we can use our resources to open up the government, that's a game-changer."
Tennant said one of her priorities if elected would be diversifying the economy.
"I think we do that through energy. I'm frustrated and disappointed that Marcellus Shale wasn't accomplished during the legislative session. What we need to do is address it and take responsible action in capturing that gas. What do we do after it's extracted? How do we maintain environmental responsibility, ensure clean water and repair our roads?" she said. "We need to be in control of it and not let it control us."
An increase in severance tax on natural gas drilled in the Marcellus Shale is something Tennant said she could see as a possibility.
"I can see more of a severance tax through gas, but we're going to show through our transparency initiative where that revenue is going and where it's going to be used. That revenue should benefit the people of West Virginia and not be taken advantage of," said Tennant, who added she'd like to see some of that money put in research and development for bioscience and technology.
Tennant said that touting West Virginia's economy remaining in the black speaks to the state's ability to show it's a good place to do business, but that the 10 percent unemployment rate must be addressed.
"When you talk about promoting West Virginia, there's no better promoter than me," she said.
Regarding education, Tennant said setting high expectations is critical.
"We have to start telling ourselves that we can have the best education system in the country," she said.
Tennant is an advocate of reforming the education system through classroom discipline, cracking down on truancy and utilizing technology to its maximum potential.
"How can teachers teach if they don't have control of their classroom? Teachers need to be able to discipline in the classroom and when they do, they need backed up," she said. "If teachers are going to be trained in the latest technological innovations, they need support to continue."
Tennant said she supports evaluations of teachers that take into account a variety of factors, including student progress and in-class evaluation.
"There's not one single way to evaluate teachers, and administrators should have that same accountability," she said.
Tennant said she would be the "technology governor," pushing for broadband opportunities, using video communication for increased government transparency and creating more programs like the one used in her administration as Secretary of State to help military members overseas participate in the voting process.
She said she has worked closely with small businesses to decrease red tape, understands budget cuts after implementing a 10 percent cut in her office and supports state funds for increasing healthful school lunches. The drug crisis is among her top priorities, she added.
"The economy is big, of course, but dealing with the drug abuse problems is one of my priorities as well. Drug abuse does not discriminate. It's killing our people, destroying our families and putting a strain on our jails and judicial system," she said. "How are we going to rehabilitate folks? Can we get folks to work? Can they come to a day center instead of jail? I think we can put folks in day centers, let them get their GEDs and have them help clean up our communities. I think we need to focus on rehabilitation. It's core to our society."
Tennant said funds earmarked for treatment, recovery and rehabilitation must be proven to be used efficiently.
"If we're going to put $500,000 in a program, let's see how it's spent and then increase funding from there," she said. "It goes back to accountability and transparency."
She also spoke on an issue that has become a hot topic among Huntington area residents -- the state's pilot home rule program that includes several cities, including Huntington.
"I would like to see how the review takes place. Cities need opportunities and abilities to revitalize and rejuvenate their downtowns, but I'd like to see how well these cities have been able to accomplish what they set out to do in this five-year home rule period."