FOLLANSBEE - "I'll do a little talking but more importantly, I'll do some listening," West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant told seniors and others at the Brooke County Senior Center Thursday.
Tennant said her visit to the center is among stops planned for each of the state's 55 counties in an effort to hear issues of concern to residents as she prepares to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
A Democrat, Tennant is among several, including U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-Charleston, and Pat McGeehan, a former state delegate from Chester, who have announced their candidacy for the seat since Jay Rockefeller announced he will retire after 30 years in the position.
SECRETARY VISIT — West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, right, spoke to Joy Crawford, executive director of the Brooke County Committee on Aging; and others at the Brooke County Senior Center Thursday. The stop in Follansbee is among many planned by Tennant, who has announced she will seek the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring. -- Warren Scott
A native of Marion County, Tennant is in her second term as Secretary of State. She is a 1991 graduate of West Virginia University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and was the first female Mountaineer mascot; and owned and operated Wells Media, a media production company, with her husband, Erik Wells, a state Senator from Kanawha County.
Tennant said as Secretary of State, she has cut $3 million from the office's budget and worked to make the office more efficient by offering online services to individuals and businesses.
She said if elected to Congress, she won't let her party affiliation interfere with acting in the public's best interest. She cited, as an example, her part in the investigation, with the U.S. Attorney General's office, of voter fraud in Lincoln County that led in 2012 to prison sentences for three county officials, all Democrats.
Tennant said she also will stand against national policies that would harm coal and other energy-based industries in West Virginia.
"I will battle anyone who stands in the way of our energy jobs whether they are coal, natural gas, wind or water," she said.
Tennant added the state needs a more diverse economy and should turn to new technology, such as three-dimensional printers, to support existing and new industries.
Tennant also said she would work to preserve Social Security and Medicare. She criticized Capito for supporting legislation that would partially privatize Social Security and make Medicare what opponents call a "voucher system" because it would involve the government giving money to people to purchase private insurance instead of providing direct coverage.
Tennant also criticized a majority of Congress for failing to restore unemployment benefits for thousands of laid off West Virginians as well as many other Americans.
"Washington was all too happy to bail out Wall Street banks. But while thousands of hard-working West Virginians were laid off over the holidays, Congress took a vacation instead of helping folks feed their families while they look for work," she said.
Tennant said she supports raising the minimum wage. She said while opponents claim minimum wage jobs are held primarily by students, there are many single mothers who rely on them to feed their children.
Tennant said she herself held a part-time job to help pay for her college education.
Tennant heard from several residents who complained of rising utility costs. A few living in rural areas said they depend on propane to heat their homes because they can't afford to connect to natural gas lines away from their homes.
Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti said residents in flood zones are facing dramatic increases in coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program.
In 2012 Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in response to millions of dollars in claims filed by home and business owners affected by such major disasters as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. While the law was intended to help the financially strapped Federal Emergency Management Agency, it has raised the cost of flood insurance for property owners as much as 10 times.
"It's going to be devastating to municipalities like Wellsburg. All of the little cities along the Ohio River are going to be affected," Simonetti said.
She noted flooding in Wellsburg is not frequent and damage to homes and businesses, even in heavy floods, are not as severe as in coastal areas.
Tennant agreed, saying the law "forces us to pay for people who might own oceanfront property."
She said in addition to creating a financial hardship on property owners, the rate hikes will make it difficult for people to sell their homes.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and other federal lawmakers are introducing legislation aimed at repealing the law or reducing its impact. The bill has been dubbed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)