Editorial: Scary similarities between presidential, gubernatorial candidates

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Early voting has begun in West Virginia and, as residents prepare to cast their ballots, they must acknowledge the impossible choice in front of them. No, this isn’t the choice between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Donald Trump, R-N.Y. This is the opaquer decision between gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jim Justice and Republican Bill Cole.

It’s impossible to ignore the parallels the candidates share with the presidential hopefuls. Justice is the owner of the popular resort, The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs and has established a campaign upon the promise of job growth within the state. Bill Cole is the state senate president and well-known car salesman who has found himself defending his establishment ties (which is admittedly ridiculous considering that Cole has only held political office for a handful of years).

But where Clinton and Trump have their strengths — Clinton’s knowledge of policy, Trump’s ability to rouse his base — Cole and Justice lack any remarkable differentiating factors. For example, while Clinton and Trump fundamentally disagree on issues such as immigration and foreign policy, Cole and Justice have similar positions on hotbed issues in West Virginia, such as coal and the state’s escalating drug problems, two issues that could define the state’s future.

With energy and, in association, jobs, Cole and Justice mostly rely on the pandering tactics that are essential to be elected in the state. This includes eschewing facts that point towards the continual decline of the state’s coal industry and planting a false sense of hope into the minds of voters. Cole utilizes the typical Republican “war on coal” argument, which has led to West Virginia’s red state status in recent elections. Justice says that his business practices will contribute to his success as a job-creating governor.

However, emotional appeals like these don’t trump facts. The state has lost 16,000 jobs in the energy sector since 2012, according to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, cited in a “Charleston Gazette-Mail” article. The solution, the experts said, is a more diverse economy, with a focus on tourism and renewable energies.

Tourism, of course, is a reasonable solution to the problem. But neither candidate has a reasonable strategy to position West Virginia as a budding state for tourism. On Justice’s website, his approaches to tourism are the vague and obvious suggestions to “Think big!” and “Promote our state to a much bigger, broader audience.” Cole’s website barely mentions tourism, which almost seems better in comparison.

While coal pandering is expected in a West Virginia election, what’s more concerning is that Justice and Cole have lackluster and vague plans, respectively, to deal with the state’s growing opiate and drug problems. Only two months ago, Huntington saw 28 overdoses in four hours, 2 of which resulted in deaths.

During this month’s gubernatorial debate, Cole used a question about the state’s potential marijuana industry to pivot to the issue of drug abuse and addiction. Given the opportunity, Cole could have laid out the plan the state needs, and it almost seems like he wanted to; Cole referred to the need for longtime treatment and job placement for those convicted of drug-related felonies. But then he made this statement:

“I’ll call a special session in the first 30 days of being governor,” Cole said. “I want to enhance the drug penalties. I want mandatory minimum sentencing.”

Mandatory minimum sentences have come under fire in recent years, with President Barack Obama and organizations such as Human Rights Watch condemning them as far too severe for the crimes committed. In addition, mandatory minimums are known to be influenced by race, with a Yale study reporting that “prosecutors file mandatory minimums twice as often against black men as against comparable white men.”

Because of this, Cole’s statement goes against everything that he previously said, and reflects a lack of knowledge on the subject that is troubling for a gubernatorial candidate. Likewise, Justice’s policy is too vague for what should be a central issue of each candidates’ campaigns.

West Virginia, we deserve better than this.

As of today, Justice is currently leading in the gubernatorial polls, with an Oct. 19 MetroNews poll giving the resort owner an 11-point lead over the senate president. This is despite recent reporting from NPR that Justice owes millions in taxes, another similarity he shares with Trump.

“This job is not that hard,” Justice said during the debate, citing his experience with tourism and agriculture, as well as the state’s bountiful natural resources.

For our sake, let’s hope he’s right.

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