By John McVey
Democratic candidate for governor sympathizes with Eastern Panhandle's frustrations
Because he comes from the Northern Panhandle, state Sen. Jeffrey V. Kessler, D-Marshall, has a certain affinity with the Eastern Panhandle.
"I'm sensitive to areas that feel a bit divorced from the Charleston power center - areas that feel they are not heard, not recognized," he told The Journal Thursday. "I'm sensitive to border areas that have to compete with neighboring states for jobs and businesses."
The 55-year-old Glendale resident is a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the special gubernatorial primary on May 14. He campaigned in the tri-county this week.
A trial lawyer by trade, Kessler has served in the Senate since 1997 representing the 2nd Senate District, which includes all or part of nine counties in the Northern Panhandle and northeastern West Virginia. He was appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003.
He was elected acting Senate president this past session after Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor.
Kessler said that when he became acting Senate president, he picked a leadership team from parts of the state that felt frustrated with former leaders.
Kessler named state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, to the majority leader's post, the second most powerful position in the Senate, and state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, to chairman of the important Senate Government Organization Committee.
"A fifth of the population of the state lives in the east," Kessler pointed out. "You have to fertilize the areas of growth. I'm sensitive to areas with potential."
One of the tri-county's greatest assets in attracting new businesses is its available workforce, he said.
"We need to connect the opportunities with the people."
He said that is why education and training is important to economic development. Kessler said he would adequately fund community colleges and vocational schools based on pupil populations, not politics.
The tremendous shift in population from the south to the east and northeast parts of the state make the upcoming legislative redistricting very important.
"For the next decade, we need districts that accurately reflect the population of West Virginia and not disproportionate control of power," Kessler said.
Early Thursday morning, he greeted MARC commuters at the Caperton Train Station in Martinsburg.
Operated by the Maryland Transit Authority, MARC's Brunswick line runs between Martinsburg and Union Station in Washington with stops in Duffields and Harpers Ferry. The MARC line is the only commuter train service in West Virginia.
Maryland has threatened to stop MARC's Eastern Panhandle service because West Virginia does not contribute any money to its operation. A surcharge was placed on tickets sold in West Virginia a couple of years ago to offset Maryland's expense to lease the rail lines from CSX railroad, which owns the lines.
Kessler said he would support state funding for the commuter line.
"It's too important for this part of the state and it's the most reasonable mode of transportation," he said. "A lot of taxes are generated in the Eastern Panhandle. A lot of money comes to Charleston from the Eastern Panhandle. We can find money in the budget for the MARC line."
Kessler plans to greet commuters boarding the MARC line at the Duffields train station this morning before making several campaign stops throughout Jefferson County.
In addition to other stops on Thursday, Kessler took part in opening ceremonies for the Hospice of the Panhandle Clinical Pastoral Education program. The ceremony also served as an induction for the first group of candidates to pass through the program. Candidates include Sen. Unger, the Rev. Carl Hickerson, the Rev. Douglas Pixler, Shirley Jean Reed, Sea Raven and Richard Budaj.