Jim Ruland is hoping to deny state Sen. Herb Snyder another four-year term in the West Virginia Legislature in the Nov. 6 general election.
Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, and Ruland, his Republican opponent, have been vying for votes in the 16th Senate District, which includes all of Jefferson County and crosses into Berkeley County to include all of the city of Martinsburg and areas that generally are east and northeast of the county seat.
State lawmakers are paid $20,000 per year.
Snyder, 59, of 1113 Shenandoah Junction Road in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., was appointed to chair of one of most powerful Senate committees less than two years ago, and says retaining his leadership post is very important to the Eastern Panhandle.
“Senator (John) Unger and I are now in top leadership positions of influence and that is critical,” Snyder said of his chairmanship of the Senate Government Organization Committee and their membership on the 10-member Rules Committee, the chamber’s most powerful committee.
“For many, many decades, the Eastern Panhandle has felt like the stepchild of the rest of the state, and we are now in those very influential positions to change that,” Snyder said.
Ruland, 71, of 51 Rebels Roost Court in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., who previously served as Jefferson County Commission president, said new leadership is needed in Charleston because the same lawmakers responsible for the state’s problems still are being sent back to the Legislature to fix them.
“We’ve become conditioned to think that we made marginal improvements, but in the meantime, we’ve been down for so long, we don’t realize how far down we are,” said Ruland, who is the managing partner of a commercial real estate development and property management company in Jefferson County.
“And I think ... the root cause of all of (problems with the state education system, persistently high unemployment, etc.) is one-party rule,” he said. “(For) 80 years, one party has controlled both houses of the Legislature.”
Ruland also was quick to add that Republicans, had they been in charge for 80 years, probably would have been just as bad.
Ruland noted evidence of the state’s plight was revealed by a recent education system audit that indicated the state Department of Education was more centralized and isolated than any other in the nation and that there were more administrators per child than in any other state.
Ruland said state education leaders act like a fourth branch of government that isn’t accountable to the people.
Ruland said he believes the state’s funding allocation for education is adequate, but said it is clear the money is not getting to the teachers or the students.
“It’s getting all gummed up in the bureaucracy,” Ruland said.
Snyder, who owns an analytical and bacteriological laboratory that primarily analyzes water and wastewater, said he has worked “extremely hard” in his last four years in the Legislature, and dismissed Ruland’s attack on the longtime Democratic control of the Legislature.
“We’re talking about the (last) 20 months,” Snyder said. “Things have significantly changed as far as the influence of the Eastern Panhandle ... and we’ve never had that.”
Among his accomplishments, Snyder said he shepherded the Chesapeake Bay bill through the Legislature, which commits $100 million in lottery revenue toward mandated upgrades at public wastewater treatment operations in eastern West Virginia.
Snyder said he believes Berkeley County is “a huge winner” as a result of the bill, but added that he needs to return to the Legislature to make sure the Eastern Panhandle gets a significant portion of the funding due to be distributed next year.
Snyder also cited his work to get the Cacapon State Park capital improvement bonding bill through the Legislature, as well as his work on Marcellus Shale legislation.
When asked to describe his politics, Ruland characterized himself as a moderate to conservative Republican, but not an ideologue.
Snyder described himself as a fiscal conservative/social moderate Democrat.
Ruland said he doesn’t like the direction the state and nation are taking and believes he can make a difference.
“We should be paying our bills as we go,” Ruland said. “It’s not fair to be putting this on the heads of our children and grandchildren.”