By Katie Kuba
Senior Staff Writer
"I have a proven record; my opponent has no record," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said about the gubernatorial race Friday afternoon, amidst a Mountain State Forest Festival in full swing.
Fresh from his official duty of crowning Queen Silvia LXXVI Emily McKibbin Everson, Tomblin also set aside time for campaigning, stopping at a handful of businesses and community organizations to greet Randolph County residents as well as festival goers from far away.
At one of his stops - the McNeer, McMunn, Highland & Varner law firm in Elkins- the governor sat down to talk about why he believes he's a better choice than his Republican opponent, Bill Maloney, what role he sees central West Virginia playing in the state's future, and of course, what he likes best about the Forest Festival.
Asked what he believes is the most important issue for voters to consider in the upcoming Nov. 6 general election, Tomblin said it should be a candidate's ability to create a business-friendly climate, pointing to the new Macy's distribution plant located near Martinsburg.
"We've continued to lower taxes and are eliminating the business franchise tax," Tomblin said. "The food tax will be gone by July 1 next year. Our bond rate is the highest it's been in decades. We've created a more business-friendly climate, and we're seeing a lot of inquiries and a lot of investment in the state because of our stability."
Tomblin, who was elected to finish the unexpired term of Sen. Joe Manchin in October 2011, said businesses have invested more than $6 billion in the Mountain State in the last 18 months, generating 6,500 new jobs as a result.
"I've proven I've got the ability to continue to move our state forward and to be able to create the kind of jobs that keep our children and grandchildren in the state," Tomblin said.
His positive rapport with Republicans hasn't hurt either, he said. Citing the passage of legislation designed to regulate the natural gas industry, increase coal mine safety and address statewide substance abuse, Tomblin said he has the tact to inspire bipartisan voting on key issues.
"Some of those measures mentioned were done with bipartisan support, and I'm not sure my opponent could have done that kind of work," the governor remarked, referencing Maloney. "I have experience balancing a budget, I can write legislation and I have the ability to work with all sides."
Tomblin said he feels "very confident" as the November election looms, noting he's spent the last 21 months talking with - and listening to - voters.
"I've gotten a lot of positive responses, and people seem to like what we're doing." he said.
So, with political power shifting from the southern part of the state to the Eastern Panhandle due to large population increases, how does Tomblin view central West Virginia's role in the Mountain State's future?
Tomblin said the state Legislature's leadership is more diversified now than it's been in the past.
"Leadership is dispersed all over the state," he said. "The timber industry here is doing very good, as well as wind power. It's absolutely important if we want to continue to move forward for people in this region to go to the polls and vote."
And finally, what does he enjoy most about the Forest Festival?
"The parades, and just walking around and seeing all the people out," he said. "I enjoy taking in the wood chopping contest and all the other things around going on.
"It's an exciting time for Elkins," he said.