By Matt Armstrong
Richard "Rick" Thompson, a candidate for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination in May's primary election, is in the Eastern Panhandle to see his son participate in a SkillsUSA competition at James Rumsey Technical Institute this weekend, and he visited Jefferson County Friday.
Thompson, a delegate from Wayne County for 11 years, has served as speaker of the House for the past five legislative sessions. He is also chair of the House Rules Committee.
His campaign for governor began about 18 months ago in expectation of a 2012 election, but Thompson decided to run in 2011 when the special election was announced, with support from his wife Beth.
Thompson served in the U.S. Army before attending Marshall University for his undergraduate degree and law school at West Virginia University.
"West Virginia's been very good to me, and I want to give back to West Virginia," Thompson said. "I've been doing that as speaker, and I think I could do that better as governor. ... I want to give back to the state I owe so much."
While Wayne County is on the opposite side of West Virginia in relation to the Eastern Panhandle, it does face some of the issues counties in this region face because Wayne, Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties all border neighboring states.
"I understand what we do in West Virginia affects our businesses, it affects our education system because people can just drive across to the next state if we don't handle things appropriately," Thompson said. "Every tax we impose that's higher affects especially our border counties."
Thompson added that he supported failed legislation dealing with issues that might affect the Eastern Panhandle more than other parts of the state, specifically homestead exemption and Marcellus Shale, during the recently-concluded legislative session.
"We need a special session dealing just with Marcellus Shale, because it has a tremendous potential but also a tremendous risk to our citizens," he said. "So we want to maximize what we can do with that but we want to protect our citizens."
An issue facing the Eastern Panhandle and other border areas is the gas tax, which some believe is harmful to business in border areas because residents can drive a short distance to purchase cheaper gas instead of spending money in West Virginia.
"The problem in West Virginia is that over 70 percent of our highways are secondary roads, that's the sole funding for those," Thompson said of the gas tax. "We need to find an alternative funding source for our secondary roads, because the alternative is to be hitting potholes and spending $500 to repair your rims and tires. ... We've got to find an alternative funding source, but each time we find one then there's always some problem with it."
The food tax is another issue that is believed to drive West Virginia consumers to other states with either a lower food tax or no such tax. Thompson said he tried to pass legislation to phase out the food tax during the recent session, a proposal which was defeated. Instead, the tax was reduced by 1 percent.
Thompson is one of six Democratic candidates running for the party's gubernatorial nomination in the May 14 primary election, according to the secretary of state's office. There are eight official Republican candidates, one Republican listed as a precandidate, and two Mountain Party members listed as precandidates.