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Incumbent Republican Patricia Rucker is pro-life on abortion and a homeschooling mom who supports charter schools. Her challenger, Democrat Pete Dougherty, who previously served as Jefferson County school board member for 25 years, is pro-choice and an opponent of charter schools.

Rucker and Dougherty answered the question posed by Eastern Panhandle Business Association members—why do you belong to the political party you chose as a candidate for the District 16 state senate seat serving Jefferson County?

Dougherty: I’m a Democrat because I’ve grown up as a Democrat. I’ve always been a Democrat. I don’t find anything inherently wrong with being a Republican or being a Democrat. Contrary to what people say, I’m not Nancy Pelosi’s best friend and I’m not Donald Trump’s worst enemy.

I believe in the things that I believe in. You have to run under a party and I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and I continue to stay in the Democratic Party.

Rucker: I have to tell you that I am a first-generation immigrant that came to the United States in 1981 when I was six years old. I always thought I was going to go back to Venezuela. That was the plan. We were here temporarily. My dad had a job here. And it wasn’t until I met my husband and we fell in love that I started to realize, yeah, I might actually stay here.

I applied for permanent residency two months before I got married. I became a permanent resident. Five years later I could apply for citizenship, and I officially became a U.S. citizen on Oct. 8, 2004.

That day that I became a U.S. citizen I registered as a Republican. I have always, always—from the time I was young—felt that the freedom of opportunity that America provides is the most beautiful thing that we could ask for. And what I want is the opportunity and the freedom.

I’m not asking for favors. I’m not asking for any special treatment. I want to be given the same opportunity and freedom as everybody else. And with that, I will make the best decisions for my family and for myself.

And so I have been a Republican ever since I got the right to vote, and I have to say that I believe that the Republican Party is the party that stands up for the same things that I believe in—those principles of equal opportunity and freedom from all.

WRNR-TV10 in Martinsburg held a candidate forum on Sept. 29. Here are Dougherty’s and Rucker’s opening statements.

Dougherty: It’s hard for me to sort of fit in all the things that I’ve done. I consider this to be a job interview, and the good part that I think I bring to this position is that I have had a lot of experience. I’ve worked in the court system. I’ve been a magistrate. I’ve been a school board member. I’ve been on as the current sheriff of Jefferson County. I’ve been on the U.S. House and Senate committees on veterans affairs.

I’ve also been very involved in my community, and I have been for many, many years. I’ve been a trustee of my church. I’m a national cochair for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. I’m a vice president with the Boys Scout council in this area. I’ve been a longtime member of the Charles Town Kiwanis Club—a longtime member of the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been participating for literally decades to recognize outstanding students—eight-grade students. I’ve also sort of single-handedly sponsored the teacher of the year and the service personnel of the year in Jefferson County, and invited them and their families to a dinner where they’re all being recognized, and pay the cost out of my own pocket, for the teacher of the year to go into Leadership Jefferson. I’ve also been a college trustee.

So I think what I bring to the table is lots and lots of experience in knowing what the problems are in West Virginia and working creatively to solve them.

Rucker: I believe an educated voter is the best voter. … I got elected in 2016. I’m a mother of five. I’ve been married to my husband for 24 years and we live in Harpers Ferry.

I am very honored to serve as the representative of the eastern-most area of the state—Jefferson and Berkeley County—in Charleston. We are the region that’s farthest away from the state capital. We need someone who is going to fight to represent our interests, our needs in Charleston. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve spent four years fighting for us—fighting to improve our education, fighting to finally get some drug rehab right here in our region, fighting in order to fix the foster care issues and bring more social and emotional supports for our students, but also for our community.

We have put greater investments in all of these areas without increasing your taxes. I have voted against any increase in taxes every single time, because I believe government can be more efficiently run and we’ve been working towards that. So I look forward to continuing to do more. There’s a lot more that we can do.

Rucker and Dougherty offered these closing statements during the WRNR-TV10 forum.

Rucker: The Eastern Panhandle is a growing region. We have more people coming in, and that reflects the many advances that we have been able to make legislatively, both locally and through the state legislature. The things that we have passed have enabled the Proctor & Gambles and the other companies that have come here. We need to keep working towards that. I’m in favor of continuing to remove those obstacles to economic growth and development. I’ve pushed for greater transparency so that we know where the money is going. I’ve also pushed for more empowerment of individuals. I haven’t even mentioned my support for farming; I’ve pushed for agri-tourism to get passed two years ago so that our farmers would be able to take advantage of keeping their farms and making more money from their farms.

And I’ve also pushed for greater laxity in our alcohol legislation, because we need to come to the 21st century when it comes to that in West Virginia. I would love to see more wineries and distilleries come and those things here because all of that will help our farmers to be able to keep their farms.

We’ve talked about education. We’ve talked about foster care. I will continue to be our best advocate for those children. As a mother that is the number one thing for me. I want my children to grow up safe, have a good job—and right here in West Virginia. This is an area that you could possibly need or want in order to be successful. We need to take advantages of those things.

Dougherty: I think the difference between Senator Rucker and I is that I have been doing this for 40 years. I’ve been the person whose helped to both provide the safety to our communities. I’ve been a lead on the opioid crisis and not only the interdiction and the action to stop drug dealers but also to stop the addiction part of the process, but that is the way you’re going to have to address it.

I’ve been the person whose chaired the Professional Teaching Standards Commission. So I understand what it takes to be a good teacher, and I know what it takes to not let some people into the profession. I created and did all the things that it takes to be a certified teacher in West Virginia. I have the degree-certification, so I know what it’s like to do that. … We need to do more to invest in the public school system, but we also need to make sure that we do the best we can so that the future that we have here 20 years from now, 50 years from now—people will look back and say we made wise decisions.

Agri-business [and] travel and tourism are two of the things that are hugely important for our area. We need to move to get more clean jobs here, and we need to stop subsidizing the extraction industry … so people in California and New York can make a lot of money and people in West Virginia lose their jobs.

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