Sen. Clark Barnes told the gathering at Sunday's Lewis County Lincoln Day dinner that he represents the largest senatorial district in the state, land-wise that is.
"I represent a whole lot more squirrels, deer, and trees than I do people," said the Randolph County Republican, who then added that he is the only Republican elected to two terms in the state senate from the county "since the beginning of Randolph County."
Barnes said he wants to expand his constituency to the entire state of West Virginia, as he has thrown his hat into a ring of seven other Republicans for the governor's seat. The special election for the office vacated by Joe Manchin being elected to the U.S. Senate will be held May 14.
CHATTING — Republican gubernatorial candidates Clark Barnes, left, Larry Faircloth and Mark Sorsaia, right, chat prior to the annual Lewis County Lincoln Day dinner Sunday in Weston. The three are among eight Republicans vying for the governor's seat in the May primary. Barnes is a two-term state senator from Randolph County. Faircloth served 24 years in the state House of Delegates, and Sorsaia has been the prosecuting attorney in Putnam County since 1996. (CU and The Inter-Mountain/John Wickline)
"People in West Virginia are starting to realize that Republicans have some good ideas," he said. "Let's take over and do it right. We don't need stimulus money, and we don't need new taxes. We need to put our house in order and move forward."
Barnes was joined on the podium by three other candidates for the position - former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, former Berkeley County Del. Larry Faircloth and Putnam County prosecuting attorney Mark Sorsaia. Filing for the special election just ended Saturday night.
"Right now in Charleston, it seems like you're either running for governor, or you're acting like a governor," said West Virginia GOP chairman Mike Stuart. "We need to reach out to (people) to say that there is a different vision than what was presented in the past. We can change our future. We have a golden opportunity a state turning from a Democratic-controlled state to a true two-party system."
Sorsaia said he never intended to run for governor, always believing he would retire as a prosecuting attorney. But he said he always fought against bullying as a prosecutor and worked to stop it.
He said he saw acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and what was going on in Charleston and "got mad.
"I don't want him to be our next governor," he said. "West Virginians don't want him to be our next governor. We can do better."
Sorsaia said the state can do better in terms of educating its youth. He said there needs to be discipline in the classrooms and discipline involving administrators and teachers.
"We don't have disciple in the way we spend money," he added. "The money should be in the classroom."
He also said the state needs to do a better job with those suffering from mental illness and addiction. He said putting drug addicts in jail when they commit crimes is not the long-term solution to overcrowded prisons.
"We're not dealing with drug addiction," Sorsaia said, adding that solving that problem could also lead to less crowded prisons.
Ireland blasted the involvement of the federal government in people's daily lives.
"We need them out of our backyards, our schools, our wallets, and our state," she said. "I believe in individual responsibility. We have too many people feeding at the federal trough."
Ireland also said state leaders need to demand a seat at the table when discussing energy policies. She said coal and natural gas should play a major role in allowing America to becoming energy independent, "so we don't have to worry about what's going on in the Middle East."
Faircloth said the state government should cap its spending and work to eliminate harmful regulations. He said small businesses should be allowed to "do their thing" as they try to grow and prosper. He said he has talked with many people who are weary of politics as usual.
"People in this state are hungry for leadership," he said.