Local Republicans announce candidacy

WEIRTON – Two area Republican candidates hope to be part of a party effort to end 80 years of Democrats controlling the state Legislature.

Mark Zatezalo of Weirton and Dolph Santorine of Wheeling announced their candidacies for the House of Delegates at a meeting of the Hancock County Republican Party executive committee on Saturday at the Serbian American Cultural Center.

Zatezalo is running for one of two First House District seats, consisting of Hancock County and part of Brooke County, and Santorine is seeking one of the seats in the Third House District in Ohio County.

Pat McGeehan, Hancock County Republican Party chairman, said the 2014 election is the first time in 80 years that Republicans have the opportunity to take the majority of the state Legislature. He said Republicans statewide have the same objective of taking the majority in Charleston.

“It hinges on our success with the candidates here today to win seats in the Northern Panhandle. It is critical to finally overthrow 80 years of Democrats’ control,” McGeehan said.

Zatezalo is chairman of the Weirton Redevelopment Authority. He is a geologist with more than 35 years of working in the study of hydrogeology, with experience in the study of migration of contaminants from various sources including mining, industrial, nuclear and oil and gas industries. In addition to working for an engineering consulting firm, he is currently a board member of the Clean Streams Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on cleaning acid-mine drainage problems emanating from closed coal mines. He has lived a large part of his life in Weirton, where he resides with his wife, Martha, and two daughters, Jennifer and Danica.

Zatezalo said the state is at a critical time, with a lot to offer the rest of the country.

“We need to have people who understand the issues confronting the state in the Legislature that can make policy changes that helps the state,” he said.

His platform focuses on energy and education. He said the state has ranked low in education for a long time. He said the state has less than one-half a percent of the country’s population but ranks third in the nation in energy production.

“We need to export energy to keep our citizens employed,” he said, adding that production of gas from shale makes up 18 percent of the total gas supply nationwide.

Zatezalo said state spending on education ranks about the middle across the country but the results are at the bottom of the list in education performance.

Santorine, who runs a private equity company, lives in Wheeling with his wife, Lora Kaye, and four children.

He wants to improve what he calls the state’s crumbling infrastructure, specifically bridges and roads. He also said the state’s educational system needs improvement.

“We know what we need to do to correct our educational system,” he said, adding the system is outdated and not preparing youth for jobs. “It is more about how we approach the problem, instead of throwing more money at it. We have great educators and students that show great promise. We need to refocus.”

He said it isn’t right for the state to finish at the bottom of nationwide education polls year after year. Santorine said the energy sector in the state, specifically the gas and oil industry, can’t find qualified workers in West Virginia. He believes the education system needs a smarter approach to prepare young people for jobs that will keep them in the state and not looking elsewhere for employment.

Santorine said roads and bridges have been neglected for years. He said the infrastructure needs to be improved in the future.

McGeehan said the state has ranked at the bottom of polls as to which states are business friendly. He said youth are leaving the state for employment.

“There is no economic opportunity (for the youth). A lot of that has to do with Charleston and the party in charge.”

He said state government has doubled its budget in the past 10 years.

Santorine said business regulations imposed by the state has negatively impacted economic development.

“Economic freedom is impacted way too much on the state level. Without freedom from excessive regulations, there is no economic freedom,” he said.

“Eighty years of tax, spend and regulate needs to be changed and changed quickly,” he said.

McGeehan has already announced he is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2014.

(Law can be contacted at mlaw@heraldstaronline.com)