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The Herald-Dispatch invited candidates in certain races in the May 10 primary to submit columns for publication on the Opinion page. Six candidates responded before the deadline. No further columns from candidates are being accepted for publication.Human nature dictates that avid partisans of political parties lock themselves into preexisting beliefs. Only seeking data that conforms to already held opinions and refuting information that disproves assumptions, they erase facts with personal emotions. This inclination is harmful to a successful process where thoughtful, evidence-based approaches guide elected officials’ decisions. The recent legislative session was therefore a “two steps forward, one backward” example.

Federal monies from the American Recovery Plan and the infrastructure bill have and will continue to provide West Virginia the means to correct shortcomings responsible for stagnant economic growth and population loss, yet time in Charleston was wasted on politically opportunistic bills, some of which hurt our unappreciated educators and public schools. Improvements in broadband coverage, roads and bridges are now possible without increased taxes if we are faithful stewards of the $4 billion ARP and $6 billion federal infrastructure packages awarded our state. On the Education Committee I have proposed, and I will continue to push, that some of the money be used for upgrading the physical and procedural security of all our schools.

West Virginians return home following their military discharge less often than veterans of any state, which increases the loss of potential skilled workers from our economy. As a veteran and member of the House Veterans Committee, I support efforts to provide incentives such as tax credits and the Hope Scholarship to bring Mountaineer veterans home. Similarly, I oppose potential cutbacks in jobs and services at our VA facilities. Declining numbers of veterans should be offset by an aggressive outreach to qualified persons not currently benefitting from available programs. We must repay the service and secure the wellbeing of every veteran.

As a supporter of labor and worker safety, I witnessed the impact citizen involvement generates. HB 4840, which would have drastically weakened mine safety, fines and inspections, was on a path toward certain passage along party lines until UMWA members led by Chad Francis lined the Capitol halls to literally lobby for their lives. Under pressure, the bill was pulled from the calendar.

Failed bills addressing the crisis of our 6,200 foster care children, providing additional aides in K-3 classrooms, and enhancing day care services for the work force must be revisited. Day care for educators might be helped by creating child care classes in secondary schools, teaching parenting skills, while retaining teachers through this financial benefit.

The Rainy Day Fund balance exceeded $1 billion after, by law, half of the $30.8 million budget surplus was deposited. West Virginia can and must now create wage increases for our deserving essential workers who comprise much of the exodus to neighboring states.

The opportunity for three steps forward is before us if our focus remains clear. My optimism is that we can now seize the opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure, expand educational opportunities, better fight addiction and create good-paying jobs while expanding a sustainable economy. This is our chance to say, “Welcome home to West Virginia.”

Ric Griffith is a Democratic candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates in District 27. He is a Kenova resident.

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