HUNTINGTON — Four candidates vying for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates’ 23rd District aren’t far apart in what they believe are the biggest issues the state faces.
The candidates have hopes during the next four years to address issues ranging from infrastructure to lack of skilled laborers who could build the state’s workforce, if they are elected to office.
On May 10, Evan Worrell, a Republican from Barboursville currently representing the 18th District and serving as assistant majority whip, will be opposed in the Republican primary by Jodi Biller, of Ona. In the Democratic primary, Paul David Ross, of Salt Rock, will face off against Karen Nance, of Barboursville.
Worrell said in his four years of office he has worked hard to lower prescription drug costs and to go after “Big Pharma” for their high drug costs. A bill has been passed each year to expand health care access, with Worrell focused on telehealth legislation as well as capping the price of insulin.
“I work as a health care data analytics consultant already for a large corporation, so that’s near and dear to my heart as far as getting a rural area easier access to health care, especially our aging population,” he said.
In order to do that, you have to build the state’s broadband and get it into the rural communities, he said. Worrell said he has been working on a Medicaid buy-in option for West Virginians and while it hasn’t gone anywhere, he hopes to continue work on it in the future.
Worrell — the father of six, going on seven, children — wants to find ways to put families first and give kids opportunities to stay in the state. He stressed the importance of expanding trades and skilled laborers apprenticeship programs to high school and middle school students so they understand there are opportunities beyond college.
Worrell, who works remotely, believes West Virginia is the perfect place to do such work because of its proximity to recreational pursuits.
“We’ve got to have great internet access across the state so that these people can move here and then work remotely and have good, reliable internet access and then enjoy, you know, everything West Virginia has to offer,” he said.
Biller — a nurse practitioner who is working toward a doctorate at West Virginia University, mother and wife — said she is running to protect family values, constitutional freedoms, strengthen health care and education and drive economic growth for jobs and a community in which the next generations can stay and thrive.
“We need someone to fight for our families, and that means showing up, doing the work, making hard decisions and giving the taxpayers what they are paying for,” she said.
Biller said years of neglect have led to poor roads, water, sewer and internet, referring to a “D” letter grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers on its 2020 Infrastructure Report Card. Addressing these things could prevent population loss and help the state thrive, she said. She hopes pandemic funds are invested responsibly to prevent waste and ensure the future of the state.
“We need a diverse workforce and expanded job training for people to do the jobs that are coming to West Virginia — jobs like electrical, construction, fiber internet and jobs like those require skilled workers, and we are short on those jobs,” she said.
Biller said it starts with the education system, which she believes needs to focus on fundamentals rather than Common Core education.
She said West Virginia also needs to place more nurses and health care providers in the workforce and retain those it currently has. She also wants to pass legislation to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe Schedule II and III medications to allow patients to obtain prescriptions closer to home.
On the Democratic side, Ross, who works for the electrical union in Huntington, said working people in West Virginia have been under attack with wages and benefits being cut. He said it’s time to put West Virginians first.
“I think it’s time that we, especially our state-funded jobs, get prevailing wage back and use the Labor Management Agreements to ensure that the next generation coming up will have the opportunity to learn from the masters that actually built the state,” he said.
He said that starts with the education system. He would like to bring wood shop and home economics classes back in middle school and encourage more electrical and physical training in science classes to get students to understand more about electricity and how it runs the world. If elected, he would work to make trade courses more prominent in schools to prepare students for jobs West Virginia needs, like electricians, carpenters and mechanics.
While the House is predominantly led by Republicans, Ross said he believes in working across the aisle to find solutions.
“I’m tired of the politics where people are trying to line things up for themselves and put money into their books,” he said. “And I think that’s what they’ve done for the last eight years. I think it’s time to get back in the center and do what’s right for the state.”
Nance said she is tired of the Legislature focusing on issues that are not actual issues in West Virginia, such as the anti-racism bill that failed in the final moment of the 2022 regular session, which she said are pushed forward by an organization that is an arm of the Heritage Foundation.
Nance said if elected she would make her decisions following the text of the U.S. Bill of Rights, noting the freedom of press and speech, including the right to protest. She said the Legislature has been chipping away rights under amendments five and seven, which is concerning to her. She specifically referred to a law that also failed last session, which would take away an employee’s right to sue a company if they were injured on the job.
“I’m running for office so I can get up there and hopefully we’ll be able to get more like-minded, I guess you’d have to say, people up there in the Legislature, and that we could stop and overturn some of these really outrageous laws,” she said.
Among her other concerns are foster care issues, eminent domain, the opioid crisis and environmental laws that restrict the Environmental Protection Agency. She worries about recovery houses and their places in neighborhoods. She also has hopes to address under-funding of the West Virginia State Police, specifically its crime lab, which she believes can help speed up the process of criminal cases and help counties cut back on their jail bills.
“I’m a liberal, but I’m a realist. You know, I’m about what’s fair and just under the law, because that’s what the Constitution was for — freedoms and fairness,” she said.