Redistricting still riles some House candidates Representation of eastern Kanawha County on minds of challengers for 36th District seats

Charleston Daily Mail (WV) - Thursday, April 12, 2012

The House of Delegates redistricting debate still looms heavy in the 36th District race, more than seven months after the redistricting bill was signed into law. 

Nine of the 10 candidates seeking the three seats in the new district - which was created in the breakup of the old seven-member 30th District last year - met with the Daily Mail editorial board Wednesday. 

Current Delegates Nancy Guthrie, Danny Wells and Mark Hunt, all Democrats, live in the new 36th District, which envelops some parts of Charleston, including Edgewood and areas in Kanawha City, and the eastern and southern portions of Kanawha County. 

Some candidates from both parties criticized the county's current representatives in the Legislature, saying they focus their efforts on Charleston and not the smaller communities throughout the county. 

"The majority of the people in the Upper Kanawha Valley feel like they don't have good representation," said Democrat Diana Lynne Wilson, 61, of Chesapeake. 

She said people in her area were upset about the lack of economic development in the eastern end of the county. 

Wilson said the biggest development residents have seen is the new Quincy Walmart - which people call a "mini-Walmart" because people still have to drive to the Southridge Walmart to get items not available in Quincy. 

"That's not economic development; that's not what people are looking for," she said. 

Wells strongly disagreed with the notion he and others don't care about the needs of more rural parts of the county. 

"I resent the suggestion that you can't live in Charleston and not care about the people up there," he said. 

He brought with him a list of projects he and other Kanawha County delegates have helped fund in the more rural areas of the county. 

Wells said the bad aspect to breaking up the seven-member district is that area delegates will not be able to pool their shares of community funding for projects to the same extent. 

Republican Robin Holstein, a 47-year-old small business owner from Diamond, called the fund pooling argument a "red herring" to divert the argument from the fact that the eastern end of the valley hasn't had a locally elected representative since Leo Kopelman served as a delegate in the 1970s. 

"As a native resident of the area, I think it's time we had someone taking our calls," Holstein said. 

Democrat Sharon Spencer, a former delegate and South Hills resident who now lives in Belle, said she has gone to town council meetings from Montgomery to Marmet and thinks there's still a problem with the way the three-member district is drawn. 

"I really would have supported (South Charleston attorney) Thornton Cooper's idea for the single-member district concept," Spencer, 64, said. "I think people need to have good, strong representation." 

Hunt said while he thinks the new district was a step forward, he wished it could have gone further. But he said there weren't enough votes in the Legislature to support breaking the 30th District into single-member districts. 

He also said the representation concerns from the eastern end of the county aren't just about the House of Delegates, but the fact that most county officials - including county commissioners, circuit and county clerks - all live in Charleston. 

"Every elected official is from Charleston, and I don't think that electing one member in the House is going to solve all the problems on the eastern end," Hunt said. 

Democrat Bob Johns, a 52-year-old attorney and small business owner with rental properties throughout the county, said although he is a Charleston resident his business dealings across the county give him a better perspective. 

"Even though you're from Charleston, you can understand the problems of the Upper Kanawha Valley," Johns said. 

Republican Steve Sweeney, a 50-year-old construction company owner from South Charleston, said members of the public wanted single-member districts because they felt it would give them a better chance to have a local and available representative in the community. 

"The whole concept of the single-member would be someone from that neighborhood representing them," he said. 

Steve Thaxton, a 33-year-old South Charleston resident with an electrical contracting business, said if people vote for good candidates, they'll have good representation regardless of district lines. 

"(People) all have the same problems, and they're struggling just the same as everyone," Thaxton said. "Everybody deserves the same representation; everyone's got the same problem, rich or poor." 

Guthrie said no one's going to know the true effect redistricting had on representation in the district until the election is over and whoever wins serves a term. She said the focus should turn now toward how to improve things for the district and state. 

"It's a settled matter at this point," Guthrie said. "The courts have decided that this is what it is and we need to move forward. 

"This was a very arduous, painful process that people are still prickled about and we need to move on," she said.