By Brittany Erskine
State Treasurer John Perdue says his travels around the state tell him that West Virginians want their next governor to attack issues that are important to them -- utility rates, job growth and education.
"I've been holding town hall meetings, listening to them tell me what's wrong with this state," said Perdue, who has served as state treasurer for the past 14 years. "Our citizens are becoming very frustrated."
People want to know how the government is going to help them take care of their budgets, he said.
It's his understanding of the needs of the "people in the little white houses and the people in the little white churches" that makes him the Democratic candidate of choice in the party's May 14 special gubernatorial primary, the 60-year-old Boone County native said.
Perdue has 37 years of government service, including working for the Department of Agriculture and serving as a senior aide to former Gov. Gaston Caperton before being elected treasurer in 1996.
The primary is being held to determine who should run in the Oct. 4 general election to fill the unexpired term of former Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin. Perdue is one of six Democrats running. The Republicans have eight candidates and the Mountain Party has two.
"I've learned utility rate increases are very concerning to the citizens," Perdue said.
Perdue railed against the Public Service Commission and charged it with rubber stamping rate hikes. He did not provide evidence to confirm his accusations. He questioned why American Electric Power's Ohio customers received a collective $43 million refund while AEP's West Virginia customers didn't.
In Ohio, if a utility company's profit exceeds the profit cap, the utility must refund that excess to its customers.
Perdue said he's heard from small business owners who say utility rate increases are putting "tremendous pressure on their small business to operate." The pressures are troublesome as Perdue said small business is the key to expanding the state's economy.
In March, the Public Service Commission approved a 4.6 percent increase for American Electric Power's West Virginia subsidiaries. The PSC is considering a second request to raise rates by nearly 9 percent.
"Small business is critical to the economic development of this state, and when we lose them we lose West Virginians that work here, buy a home here, buy their groceries here, send their kids to school here," he said.
Perdue wants to take $50 million from the state's surplus and use it to attract and help small business growth. The money would be used to help small businesses obtain loans for working capital to help pay the benefits and salaries of new employees and expenses.
Perdue also wants to look at education. He said teachers are being forced to teach two different ways.
"I'm told by many teachers that 50 percent of their class is not prepared for the next day when they come in to teach," he said. "They may have to teach two different ways to the 50 percent who didn't get their homework done and the 50 percent who wants to move forward."
Perdue doesn't want to continue blaming teachers for all the problems in education, he wants to change education.
"I would like to start a small West Virginia corps where we can attract young teachers coming out of college to go to rural areas of this state that they're having a hard time getting certified teachers to teach in," he said.
Using more technology, including providing laptop computers for all students from kindergarten through high school, would require bringing broadband high-speed Internet to the entire state and would help usher in the technology age for West Virginia, he said.
While proud of his time in state government, Perdue is especially proud of his time as treasurer.
"Most people know what this office was like before I took over," he said. "I modernized it, brought it into the 21st century."
As treasurer, Perdue has overseen the creation of the state's college savings program, Smart 529, and the return of more than $100 million in unclaimed property.
Emphasizing his experience "running the budget" and his background growing up in Boone County, Perdue reiterated his commitment to addressing the issues of the people of the state.
"I'm a people's person," Perdue said. "I think the people of West Virginia know when I go after something I'll make it happen."