MADISON — Gubernatorial candidate Ron Stollings (D) believes his 14 years in the West Virginia Senate combined with his experience as a physician make him the right choice for governor in 2020.

“Right now is the time when you need someone with a health care background and is well respected so we can get things done,” Stollings said. “I’ve never seen this more critical as I do at this time with the opioid and substance abuse disorder, hospitals around West Virginia closing, medical costs and now the coronavirus pandemic.”

He added, “We’ll be moving away from a fee-for-service model to a different type of payment system. With all of that, West Virginia needs someone with an extensive background in health-related policy who cares about patients and people in general.”

Stollings, 64, said that in relation to COVID-19, he feels that West Virginia’s reaction could have been more swift and comprehensive.

“The two most glaring issues are the lack of protective equipment and the lack of testing options,” he said. “It is my understanding that this is federally based so I’m not sure what the state of West Virginia could have done. We could have socially distanced sooner, we could have shut down quicker, we could have sheltered in place or issued a stay-at-home order. I think we had more of a reactive plan than a proactive plan. One thing that I find most interesting is that people are knocking on the doors of West Virginia when there is a disaster.”

Stollings has been active on social media, answering questions and engaging with citizens regarding coronavirus. As a geriatric physician, his patients have many concerns with the current landscape.

“As I’ve said in Facebook Live, you have to assume that everybody you see has the virus, and if you assume that, it will direct your behavior accordingly,” he said. “I saw 12 patients today through audio consultations, and they are very concerned.”

Stollings said the pandemic has presented challenges that he hopes West Virginia and the country can learn from.

“We should bring back our manufacturing of key materials to America,” he said. “We must bring back our medication supply to America. Everybody wants to be self-sufficient. What does it take to be self-sufficient? We need to manufacture ventilators here and have a stockpile to draw from. We need to learn from this crazy pandemic that caught our country off-guard. In turn, we can improve our economy by manufacturing these items right here in West Virginia.”

Stollings spoke about the importance of a strong, educated, drug-free workforce to be able to support manufacturing jobs.

“We have one of the best business tax climates in the country, and we need to promote this,” he said. “We have to get back to the basics, help our children with adverse childhood experiences so that they can be free to learn and grow. There is a short-term fix to all of these issues. We have to rehabilitate our people and get our arms around this thing so we can get them back into the workforce.”

Stollings said it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach for West Virginia.

“We have to also support our small businesses, our entrepreneurs and develop our tourism opportunities,” Stollings said. “Our rivers, flatwater paddling and our streams are some of our most wonderful assets. I’ve already been out on the water this year.”

The West Virginia Senator said the state has made progress regarding the drug epidemic, but there is still work to be done, particularly in rehabilitating our addicted population.

“We did what we could do at the time and went after the prescription drugs and we did it fairly recklessly and we did that to the point that we didn’t have any recovery. While we wrote less prescriptions for pain medication, we saw a rise in heroin overdoses. Additionally, people who have a legitimate need for pain medication are struggling. I have worked to protect the ability to prescribe pain medicine for people with a legitimate need.”

Stollings noted that West Virginia boasts varying degrees of economic success with select regions of the state expressing different needs.

“The eastern panhandle doesn’t want growth and they want to slow it down,” he said. “Southern West Virginia lost the primary industry (coal) that carried us for so long. Then you have (Governor Jim) Justice saying the coal mines would come back and we’d have a road built up to Hobet (Rock Creek Development Park) that never gets done and promises aren’t kept a lot of the times.”

Stollings noted that for elected officials at all levels, the time is now to work together for the betterment of West Virginia’s future.

“I’m a bipartisan guy and it means I’ll be working across the aisle,” he said. “We need to repair and expand our economy beyond the coronavirus. There is going to be a huge investment in each state to get us back on our feet. I’d have the governor’s office looking at grants and partnerships. You have to use that money to help small business and entrepreneurs. Big business can survive. We provide big tax breaks for big business and we need that for our small businesses as well. These out-of-the-country businesses that manufacture items that are so important to us during a pandemic, we need them here. We need them manufactured here. Some people think of our rare earth elements is a pie in the sky but must take advantage of our resources. If we can extract them from the same area our coal came from and we can’t send it off somewhere else to be manufactured. We need to do this right here and take advantage of those added jobs to our economy.”

Stollings added, “For the past 14 years I have been involved with some type of tax reform. Our business tax climate is about 17th best in the country. It takes people coming together instead of one party dominating the process and pushing bills through where there are clear winners and losers. The problem that is identified regarding locating a company here in WV is (lack of) an educated, drug-free workforce and shovel-ready sites. I fought against the repeal of the business and inventory as it would have caused at least $100 million deficit in our budget in the upcoming years primarily impacting our counties and cities and school systems.”

Stollings spoke about the education reform bill passed in 2019.

“In order to obtain the ‘wrap around’ services that we found to be necessary, we must have a workforce,” he said. “We should focus on career tracks that will produce nurses, social workers and counselors. Many of these wrap around functions can be done by school based health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers that are already providing these type services and are being reimbursed by Medicaid and CHIP, which has a federal 3:1 or 9:1 match. The legislation can help in the long run.”

The senator remains an advocate for expanding broadband internet in West Virginia.

“Middle and last mile focus,” he said. “Future roads and other utilities should have conduit for future utilities. Cooperate with business and schools and health systems that require internet to function. The federal government will be pushing out millions of dollars to recover from the coronavirus and some of these monies should be used for this type of infrastructure. Require providers to cooperate and share towers and rural infrastructure.”

The Boone County resident said he doesn’t support the recent weakening of the EPA’s water and air regulations.

“I would not support weakening our air and water standards,” he said. “West Virginia is blessed with many rivers and we have learned that we must protect them for our future. Many people are using our rivers for recreation, tourism and physical fitness. I see many people now kayaking and fishing. We all remember the water crisis about four years ago. I remember our air being much more dirty than it is now due to many efforts.”

Stollings will face Douglas Hughes, Jody Murphy, Ben Salango and Stephen Smith in the Democratic primary in May.

The physician has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, the Award of Distinction from the Marshall University Alumni Association, the 2012 Distinguished Community Health Champion Award from the West Virginia Primary Care Association and the Inaugural Oral Health Champion Award from the West Virginia Oral Health Coalition.

Previously, Stollings has served as a member of the University System Board of Trustees and as a member of the Higher Education Policy Commission. He served as Chairman of the Corridor G Regional Economic Development Authority Board of Directors and is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Buckskin Council’s development committee. He is a member and former president of the Madison Rotary Club.

Stollings has a daughter (Whitney) and a grandson (Seth). Visit stollingsforwestvirginia.com for more information.

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.