WHEELING - West Virginia needs a new voice in the Senate to speak out against Obama administration policies that have a devastating impact on the state, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito told community and business leaders during a Tuesday campaign stop in Wheeling.
Capito, R-W.Va., is running against Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democrat nominee, for the seat held by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Capito has represented West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District in the House since 2000, and political pundits look to the Capito-Tennant race as key to the GOP's effort to gain control of the Senate for the first time since 2007.
Getting people back to work in West Virginia, where unemployment remains slightly above the national average, depends on a healthy energy economy, Capito said as she kicked off her "West Virginia Works" tour Tuesday at the nearly 120-year-old Wheeling Coffee and Spice. She said there's no better example of that than Wheeling, located at the heart of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom.
"Our voice in the United States Senate is critically important," Capito said. "We have an opportunity to change that voice."
She pointed to Alpha Natural Resource's announcement last week it will likely lay off 1,100 coal miners at 11 southern West Virginia mines, in part due to tightening federal regulations on the industry, as an example of why the country needs a course change, particularly when it comes to its energy policy. She said the layoffs will hurt not only those families affected directly but thousands of others whose jobs are supported by a healthy coal industry.
"The president has decided through his regulatory regime that he's going to pick winners and losers - and coal is losing," Capito said.
Delegate Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said he recently learned that health insurance premiums for the small business he owns in Benwood are going up 27 percent, and asked Capito what she believes it will take to get such premium increases under control.
Capito said she's voted more than 50 times as a member of the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She said she would prefer a system that allows insurers to sell coverage across state lines, permits small businesses to pool resources to get better premiums and addresses medical liability reform.
The system under the Affordable Care Act puts West Virginia at a particular disadvantage, she believes, because only one provider signed up to offer coverage under the state's new health insurance exchange.
"We want everybody insured, but somebody's got to pay for it," she said.
Capito said the law encourages employers with more than 50 workers that will eventually have to offer government-approved insurance to cut their workers' hours to part-time or simply not offer coverage and pay the resulting fine.
"It's going to move everybody into more government-run insurance, and that concerns me," Capito said.
Capito's other stops Wednesday included tours of Straub Automotive at The Highlands and Elm Grove Chrysler/Dodge on National Road. Following her stops in Wheeling on Tuesday afternoon, Capito traveled to Weirton for a fundraiser at Dee Jay's BBQ Ribs and Grille. She will be back in Wheeling this afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. to tour Ohio Valley Medical Center and Ziegenfelder's Ice Cream Co.
Capito said she chose Wheeling as the kickoff point for several reasons, including her roots as a Glen Dale native. She said Wheeling is a great example of a city that's seen hard times with the decline of the steel industry but is trying to capitalize on opportunities presented by growth in the natural gas industry.
"I'm from the Northern Panhandle originally. ... There's a lot of innovation here in Wheeling, folks here that are thinking ahead," Capito said.