MADISON - Gubernatorial candidate Stephen Noble Smith (D) made his second stop in Madison on the campaign trail regarding his bid to become the Governor of West Virginia in 2020.
The Charleston native and former nonprofit director spoke via telephone about the event, which was held at K's Kafe, adjacent to the Boone County Courthouse, on July 22.
"People in Boone County feel like they are working harder than ever before and they have less to show for it and this is a reflection of what I've heard around the state," he said. "Everything we know about the economy is that people are working harder than ever before, but they are getting a smaller slice of the pie."
Smith relates the notion, in part, to the drug epidemic in recent years.
"People tell me about raising their grandkids and nieces and nephews," he said. "We've lost a generation to the drug crisis. They are working two and three jobs while their parents worked just one job."
Smith said that Boone County Commissioner Craig Bratcher's attendance was very welcomed at the town hall and that he provided insight.
"Not that long ago the revenue from severance taxes was $5.2 million and today it is less than a million," he said. "The consequences of that is felt everywhere. This is what you get from the boom-and-bust economy that our state has endorsed. County government must make the tough decisions about whether or not you can keep parks and recreation or senior services while the state government is handing out $60 million giveaways at the end of a session to the same coal companies who are no longer producing revenue. It's such a disgusting comparison."
Smith said the jobs of the 21st century are questionable in quality.
"Those in power are content to try to make us feel content with our crumbs," he said. "The jobs of this century are horrible jobs. They are lower paying, have less stability and benefits and are often not unionized at all. People of West Virginia aren't fooled. Every time a politician goes on television telling us how great things are, we know they're lying. They may be telling the truth, but they are telling the truth about themselves."
Smith said southern West Virginia's struggles aren't all that different from the rest of the state when put under a microscope.
"I don't think the needs across the state are much different from county to county or region to region," he said. "I think some counties look down on other counties and that other counties are the problem. At a fundamental level, the problems across the state are similar. We can't allow ourselves to be divided and pitted against each other. Southern West Virginia is primed to benefit from a real diversification of the economy. Politicians offer southern West Virginia two bad options. One party lies and says you'll keep the jobs you have forever. The other party lies and says we'll provide training and everything will be fine. Those lies keep the rich rich and everyone else struggling to find adequate work."
Smith offered what he sees as a third and more realistic option.
"What if we took the hundreds of millions we send out of the state in tax cuts and giveaways to out of state land owners and instead invest that money in our own state," he said. "We invest in infrastructure, which creates jobs and long-term economic development. We invest in development of small businesses, family farms and union shops. These are the engines of our local economy. If we spent that money on our own people, particularly in southern West Virginia, you'd see a substantial return. Let's invest in ourselves."
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @philipdperry.