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GOP candidates talk mining, taxes, guns
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State Sen. Steve Martin (left) speaks during a Republican candidates forum Saturday at the Bassett Country Club. Also participating (seated, from left) were Jeannemarie Davis, Del. Rob Bell, Sen. Mark Obenshain, Ken Bowman and Les Adams. (Bulletin photo)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The six Republican candidates for state and district offices who attended a forum at the Bassett Country Club on Saturday voiced different opinions on whether a ban on uranium mining in Virginia should be lifted.

Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine the radioactive ore at a deposit in Pittsylvania County. Supporters say a mine would bring jobs to the area. Opponents say a mine could pose a danger to public health.

“If we can do it safely, we should” allow uranium mining, said state Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, who is running for lieutenant governor.

Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a former delegate and state senator who now is running for lieutenant governor, said she does not know enough about the issue right now to have an opinion. Still, she said the state should have an “appropriate authority pull together some (proposed) regulations” to determine what the exact effects of uranium mining would be.

Attorney general candidate Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, said he would reserve judgment until after the state further studies the issue.

However, “I generally think a man should be able to do what he wants to do with his own property,” Bell said, indicating that the man should be able to put a mine on his property if he wants.

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who also is running for attorney general, said he felt much the same way. But he said he would prefer to keep the ban in effect until it can be proven that uranium mining is safe.

The two 16th House District candidates, both of whom live in Pittsylvania County, voiced opposition to lifting the ban.

Ken Bowman, a former economic development director for that county, noted that the General Assembly put a lot of time and money into studying the issue this year but nothing came out of it.

Les Adams, a Chatham lawyer, said that due to controversy over uranium mining, the area is suffering from a stigma that has caused businesses to locate elsewhere.

The Southside Republican Women’s Club sponsored the forum, which was moderated by Martinsville Republican Party Chairman Jeff Williams who was dressed in colonial garb as Henry County’s namesake, the late Gov. Patrick Henry.

Among other issues discussed during the forum, candidates were asked how they would work to improve the economy in Henry County-Martinsville if they are elected.

Obenshain said the state needs to find ways to help businesses expand.

Also, “the government needs to get the heck out of the way of free enterprise” and “make sure our educational system is second to none,” he said.

Bowman said he would push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a permit needed to further develop the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre near Ridgeway.

He said he also would work with the New College Institute to create educational programs so “kids who want to stay here ... can acquire a skill they can use (to get jobs) when they get out of school.”

Bell said he would support “anything we can do” to encourage young people to return to the area after they graduate from college.

The government must “free people to engage in free enterprise,” Adams said. He added that he does not favor “crony capitalism,” an example of which he said is building an industrial park and hoping an industry will come.

Martin said people must “stop stigmatizing technical education.” He noted that many people who work at a trade they have learned earn higher salaries than people with college degrees.

He also thinks the state should repeal its corporate income tax. He mentioned that he introduced a bill to that effect. It remains before the Senate Finance Committee.

“If we can be the only state in the Mid-Atlantic without a corporate income tax, they (businesses) will come here,” Martin said.

Davis suggested that the area develop “telework” opportunities for people locally to work for companies outside the area via information technology.

She mentioned that her daughter lives in Arlington but works online for a company in Oklahoma, making an approximately $100,000 annual salary.

“We have to start doing things out of the norm,” Davis said.

All of the candidates voiced support for the state continuing to let people buy and own guns.

Adams cited information showing that states that have the fewest restrictions on firearms are the ones that have the fewest crimes.

“Gun control is greatly enhanced,” Martin said wryly, “when you can get a grip (around a firearm) with two hands.”

The candidates all indicated they do not favor Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation reform legislation because it contains tax increases. The three current lawmakers — Bell, Obenshain and Martin — noted that they voted against it.

Davis said, though, “something has to happen” to ensure there is funding to keep building and maintaining roads because existing funds are running out.

She added that highway construction in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads should not have to be paid for by voters in other regions.

The state had a $500 million budget surplus last year, Obenshain said, but “not one red cent” was spent on transportation improvements.

“We need to spend more of our surpluses on capital improvements, mainly transportation,” Martin said.

Four lieutenant governor candidates who were expected to be at the forum — Corey Stewart, Susan Stimpson, E.W. Jackson and Del. Scott Lingamfelter — did not come. They had either family or Easter commitments, according to their campaign representatives who attended instead.


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