By Katie Kuba
The Mountain State's 24th treasurer stopped by Buckhannon Friday to sip coffee and sift through the concerns of voters who could select him to be West Virginia's next governor.
State treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Perdue held an informal question-and-answer session at the 88 Restaurant & Lounge early Friday morning.
Perdue, who arrived in Buckhannon well before the appointed hour, fielded questions from residents, laid out his priorities for the state and painted himself as a man with a plan -- and plenty of leadership experience.
The hottest topic at Friday's meet-and-greet was the Legislature's failure to pass a bill during the 2011 session establishing regulations that would govern Marcellus shale drilling, a concern for people residing in the southern sections of the county. While acknowledging the industry's humongous revenue-generating potential, Perdue stressed the pressing need to implement "strong checks and balances."
"God has blessed us with another gold mine in this state," Perdue said of natural gas. "If we're going to develop the industry, we need to have some checks and balances in place. We can't have the cart before the horse. This is a booming industry and we better be able to put a plan together for the next generation and the next generation of the state."
An effective regulatory plan should be the collaborative brainchild of industry leaders, community leaders, university-based researchers and educational leaders, he added.
"We should be training our young people to work in the field," Perdue said. "We have people coming from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, but I'd like to see West Virginians with some of these jobs, and they need the training to work in these jobs. It's critical we do that."
Bringing stakeholders to the table requires leadership and experience, Perdue said.
"And I have that leadership and I have that experience," he added. "The state is a business and you need a chief executive officer who knows how to run a business. I've been a problem solver all my life."
Perdue is running on a platform of freezing and rolling back utility rate increases, according to his campaign website, and on Friday he took aim at AEP, or American Electric Power, and the agency that's supposed to hold its rates down -- the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
"AEP made a $3.8 billion profit last year, and then they say they need rate increases," Perdue said. "It's not the power companies that are helping people who can't pay their bills it's nonprofit agencies and church groups out there scraping money together to pay those electric bills. I'm all for businesses making money if they put it back into the state. "
But AEP and Allegheny Power aren't doing enough of that for Perdue's liking and he feels the PSC has been lax in fulfilling its watchdog duties.
"Small businesses are being destroyed because they're rubber-stamping rate increases at the Public Service Commission," Perdue said. "We need to take a strong look at that agency and put a moratorium on these rate increases."
Perdue thinks the PSC should be diversified so it's representative of the entire state, and not just one region; currently, all three commissioners hail from Charleston. He's also willing to consider an election rather than appointment process for commissioners.
Perdue touched on the conundrum of health care and persistent issues with prescription drug misuse before jaunting off to his next stop. On the health care front, Perdue favors funneling more money into low-cost rural clinics that serve far-out residents and seniors who now travel long distances to facilities like the Charleston Area Medical Center. And in-home nursing is a field he'd like to see grow.
"Based on personal experience, I believe in-home health care, and I think we need to see more trained nurses in this state be able to go out to the homes of our seniors," Perdue said. "We could save a lot of money with that."
Perdue considers prescription drug abuse to be a "huge, huge problem" in the state.
"Our kids are getting off the school bus and going home alone," Perdue said.
Instead of blaming teachers "who cannot be full-time babysitters" or parents who may be forced to work multiple jobs out of economic necessity, additional after-school programs should be kick-started, Perdue said. And rather than using state money to pay for those programs, the treasurer suggested developing incentives -- such as tax breaks -- that would entice businesses to fund them.
To learn more about Perdue, log onto www.wvsto.com or www.johnperdue.com. To read up on the upcoming gubernatorial primary on Saturday, May 14 and view a complete list of Republican and Democratic candidates, visit the West Virginia Secretary of State's website at www.sos.wv.gov.