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As the only non-incumbent candidate on your House District 17 ballot, thank you for allowing me to make the case to earn one of two votes you may cast for delegate.

Leadership begins by actively listening to and learning from those we intend to represent. I have done just that for decades. The expertise does not lie in Charleston, or with the lobbyists and PACS that largely fund other campaigns. To me, the struggles of students, seniors, working parents and caregivers, and the experiences of teachers, service providers, faith leaders and community volunteers must guide legislative decisions affecting them.

Looking at our foster care system as an example, our state now oversees a huge (and necessary) “Band-Aid” for the underlying struggles of poverty, trauma and addiction too many families have endured. It wouldn’t have been this way if a sensible preventive approach had been taken years ago. We urgently need investment in supportive services for vulnerable West Virginians, including a quality, well-compensated workforce.

More importantly, if we focus only on putting out the fires of the addiction epidemic and the foster care crisis, without seeing to the needs of all children in the crucial birth-to-age-5 developmental window, we’ll be continuing to put out fires into the future.

Which leads to another priority, early child care and education. I recently reached out to child care providers in Cabell and Wayne counties. One family day care provider sums up our dilemma: “Child care has been an underpaid and under-appreciated sector for a long time. Most people want quality care but to pay low tuition. That causes high staff turnover because it takes a decent salary for a good quality of life.”

Without meaningful subsidies, our child care situation is not and will never be sustainable for a working West Virginia. Forcing parents to spend a significant chunk of their household income on day care, while at the same time paying poverty wages to child care professionals, is a triple economic assault on families, the mostly female child care workforce and West Virginia’s business climate.

Investing in our youngest West Virginians and their families is more than just a nice thing to do. It will yield the highest long-term return on investment for taxpayers — from $8 to $15 on every dollar spent, according to solid research — in reduced public assistance, incarceration rates and medical costs.

The bottom line is, if West Virginia is to secure a successful future, reverse our population decline, cure the addiction epidemic and heal our communities, our state must invest in the well-being of our children.

The future for West Virginia’s children is a choice we make as we vote. We can choose to perpetuate the current cycle of despair, or we can dedicate ourselves to giving dignity to families and the best possible chance at healthy and successful lives to our children.

If elected as your delegate, that’s the choice I will always make. I would be honored to earn your vote.

Jeanette Rowsey is a Democratic candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates in District 17.

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