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Meet the Candidates: Who will represent the 84th District?

(Note: This is part two of a three-part series. For part three of Meet the Candidates, don’t miss next week’s edition.)

In part two of the Meet the Candidates forum Kenneth Hall (D) and incumbent Chris Fugate (R), who are running for 84th District State Representative took the stands to give their takes on some of the region’s hottest topics.

With WYMT weatherman Brandon Robinson serving as forum moderator for the event, the candidates were allotted two minutes for an opening statement and another two minutes at the end for any closing arguments.

Both sides were given five questions to answer in two minutes, alternating between which party goes first until all of the questions were answered.

Fugate was given the greenlight to open their half of the forum with his opening statement, where he thanked the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event.

Fugate said he worked for the Kentucky State Police for 22 years before becoming pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church.

“Four years ago, in the first debate I was ever in, I told the people of Harlan County and my district then that I was pro-life, pro-2A, pro-family values and the things I stood for,” he said. “I went to Frankfort being for those things, but also to fight for those things, and I’m thankful that since I’ve been there, I’ve done that.”

Hall also thanked everyone for allowing him and Fugate to attend the forum and speak on the things they believe in fighting for.

A lifelong resident of Perry County, Hall said he is a former Perry County School Board member, deputy coroner and deputy jailer.

Hall said when he filed for the office, he knew the odds were stacked against him, but he’s interested in helping those he goes to church with and others that he works alongside.

“I will work with a servant’s heart, and not a politician’s greed,” Hall said.

Robinson began the questions with Hall, asking what he feels is Harlan County’s biggest obstacle in economic development and how he can help overcome it if he were to take office.

Hall said it seems almost everyone agrees that infrastructure, roads and broadband are the biggest obstacles in Harlan County.

“Without these, companies that offer good paying jobs will look at us and then move on,” he said. “With good broadband, I really feel like companies that pay $10 per hour would be willing to pay $15 per hour in Harlan County and anywhere else.”

Hall said rural areas like Harlan and Perry counties keep being left out because of these things, noting grant applications can be a valuable asset as well as working with electric companies who already have infrastructure in place to help support fiber optic hookups.

Fugate agreed with Hall that road conditions are a large obstacle for the region, specifically U.S. 421 to the Virginia line in Harlan County.

“I’m thankful for the Harlan County people, the coal miners, who have worked hard to make Harlan and southeastern Kentucky what it is,” he said. “I believe that, even though there are obstacles, we can all continue working together to overcome this obstacle.”

Fugate said he has learned in Frankfort that many of the roads that are placed onto the road plan “didn’t have any money behind them,” but this year, $15 million was secured to see U.S. 421’s completion.

“Broadband, of course, is something we need to overcome, especially now that school’s are using broadband more for video and instruction,” he said.

The drug and opioid crisis was the next topic up for discussion to see what plans the candidates have to combat drug abuse that impacts local children, schools, workforce, economy and law enforcement.

Fugate said the drug crisis “is no doubt” one of the biggest problems southeastern Kentuckians are facing today, which is why he is determined to combat it.

“I supported Casey’s Law, which is a law we passed last year or the year before last, that allows family members of those who are addicted to drugs to get a petition from the court to have their loved one put in a drug rehab facility,” he said.

Fugate said although some people think drug addicts will not change, he believes there are some that can be encouraged to take their life back through the law.

“I believe there should be stiffer penalties. In a time where they’re looking for bail reform, there’s certain offenses that I believe that people should have to serve great penalties because of the devastation they’re causing to those that are around us and our families,” he said. “We also need to educate our kids more about drug abuse and support those that are trying to get help.”

Hall said he disagreed with Fugate as far as stiffer penalties for narcotics users, noting manufacturers have targeted small towns like Harlan with drugs.

“You can’t put a price tag on hundreds of loved ones who have fallen victim to this epidemic,” he said. “We have to fight back against these big corporations and hold them reasonable. We have to work with the attorney general to make this happen and expand the use of drug courts and stop using incarceration as a way to handle drug offenses unless they’re dealers.”

Hall said he agrees with the rehabilitation efforts discussed by Fugate, but he disagrees with the amount of “pain clinics” that are open across the region.

Tackling the next question regarding plans to help increase coal severance revenue for local governments, Hall said the current tax laws need to be reformed because they unlawful target the working people, then “make the top one percent pay their fair share and stop corporate loopholes.”

Hall said the six percent sales tax that was passed in 2018, which he said Fugate voted “yes” on, caused lower- and middle-classes in Kentucky to pay sales tax on manual labor for oil changes, haircuts and more.

“So, you take your coondog to the vet, you’re going to pay taxes to that vet for your coondog. But if you got a $1 million race horse, you aren’t going to have to pay those taxes,” he said. “Everyone should have to pay their fair share of taxes. That one percent isn’t paying their fair share, but when they do, it’ll give more income coming back into the state.”

Hall said he was also for expanded gambling in Kentucky.

“It needs to be legalized in Kentucky. There’s no difference in bingo, lottery or horse racing,” he said. “All of these would increase revenue that would in turn bring money back to local governments.”

Fugate said he did not believe in expanded gambling because it wouldn’t be “doing right by the people” to make them lose money so the government would make money.

“The state of Kentucky was going to get $22 million from the sports betting bill last year, but in return, Kentuckians had to lose $220 million,” he said. “So, the people that work go out and spend their money, $220 million, for the government to get $22 million. No, I’m not for that, and I never will be.”

Fugate said the only thing expanded gambling would do is make Kentuckians who already struggle with their finances spend money they don’t have, creating “a bigger havoc on people on our area.”

Fugate noted every penny of coal severance money should be brought back to the areas from which they came. Additionally, southeastern Kentucky needs to diversify through the help of Southeastern Kentucky Community and Technical College’s training programs.

He said he has also worked on an ATV trail system that is modeled after the Hatfield and McCoy trail system.

“Harlan County already has a trail system, but the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreational Authority would connection 21 southeastern Kentucky counties together patterned after the Hatfield and McCoy system in West Virginia,” he said.

Fugate said the economic impact in West Virginia was $38 billion, after 56,000 riders came to traverse the trails, which could offer large opportunities for counties in this region.

At the top of the list for many Harlan Countians, critical highway infrastructure was another hard-hitting question for the candidates to express what their top priorities were for transportation.

Fugate said U.S. 421’s expansion into Virginia is the main priority for the state legislators responsible for Harlan County and its neighbors.

“For the first time in 20 years, we have money attached to this road,” he said.

Fugate said there are certainly other places in the county that need to be addressed, but with road departments behind because of weather conditions, he and others are working harder to keep progressing forward and placing money into the budget for restructuring of roads to bring jobs in the region.

Hall said his top priority would also be U.S. 421, although the road crossing Pine Mountain into Letcher County should also be addressed.

“If I win this state representative race, I’d like to see it completed by the end of my second term. That is one thing I would fight hard for in Harlan County and work across party lines for these people here,” Hall said.

With COVID-19 adversely impacting communities throughout the world, the candidates were asked what steps need to be taken to make Harlan County more resilient to economic shocks like what the pandemic has brought on in the future.

Hall said there’s no doubt the pandemic showed “the world was not prepared for it,” causing people to learn how to social distance, relearn safe hygienic practices and adjusting to wearing a mask almost everywhere they go.

He said he would work to make sure the unemployment system was brought back up to date so citizens would not have to wait long periods of time to receive their benefits, adding he personally knows people who have yet to receive those.

“Being prepared will make us more resilient in the future. We must move on, but not live in fear,” he said.

Fugate said the virus has touched a lot of families, causing many to live in constant fear of going outside or being around people.

“In the future, I think it’s important for all businesses to come together and form some type of plan, so should we face something like this in the future, we know how to react to the things that are going on around us,” he said. “Experience is the best teacher in some ways.”

Fugate said he didn’t feel as though the government should be able to tell a business owner exactly how to run their business during a time of a pandemic, some which went out of business possibly because the government “stepped in too much.”

“Obviously, I want it to be safe, but we trust restaurant owners to fix food to feed our families, so we need to trust them to monitor what’s safe and what isn’t to keep their business going,” he said.

You can go to www.govoteky.com for more information on the November General Election.

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