CHARLESTON - Democratic West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican challenger Bill Maloney sparred on the issues of health care and court reform during a debate in Charleston Tuesday night.
Tomblin and Maloney appeared in what was the only debate scheduled in this year's governor's race. Libertarian candidate Mike Wilson and Mountain Party nominee Jesse Johnson were not invited.
The event was sponsored by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association with the American Association for Retired Persons and took place at the Clay Center in Charleston.
Maloney talked about how he would address health care reform in West Virginia - a state with one of the oldest populations in the nation.
"The biggest thing we can do right now is elect Mitt Romney president and repeal Obamacare," he said. "It's the biggest over reach by the federal government in history. It's the biggest tax increase in history. And I'm sorry, it doesn't work.
"We need some common-sense solutions where you can cross state lines with health care coverage," he added. "There's no tort reform at all in this package. There's no common sense in it."
Maloney added there also is a need for more personal responsibility among the state's residents when it comes to health care. He suggested residents take in the state's scenery and get more outdoor exercise.
Tomblin responded that the issue wasn't that simple, and that he disagrees with some of Romney's positions on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
"We do have a high number of senior citizens - one of the highest in the country," he said. "I'm somewhat concerned about (Romney's) positions as far as what he would do to put our Social Security at risk and to change Medicare as we know it in West Virginia."
Tomblin noted "there were some surprises" in a federal Supreme Court ruling in June that affirmed most of President Barack Obama's health care reform law, including the mandate that individuals must have health care coverage. But it also rejected a provision of the law that places the financial burden of expanding Medicaid on the states.
"There were some surprises - and a lot of questions - that popped up over that," Tomblin said. "We've been attempting to do everything we can to get answers to our questions on what states are allowed to do.
"To this point, the federal government has not been able to answer those questions," he continued. "The last thing I want to do is make a decision to move our health plan forward but bankrupt West Virginia."
Tomblin said he is awaiting a response from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding whether states must provide health care benefits for all those living within 138 percent of the poverty level, or whether there will be flexibility from the agency.
"Everyone needs to have health care and insurance, but it's just how much can we afford," he said. "I'm waiting for the (answers), and until I get those and can make an educated decision, we're going to wait it out."
During the debate, Maloney also criticized West Virginia's court system as an impediment to job creation. He said it is the reason the state lost Shell Energy's construction of a proposed ethane cracker plant to nearby Pennsylvania.
"Until we fix some fundamental things like our courts and our tax code, it's going to be awful tough to get these facilities in West Virginia ... ," Maloney said. "It's like we're not even on the radar screen for these things until we fix the basic problems structurally that have kept us 48th, 49th and 50th (among states) in every good category - and first in every bad category for years."
West Virginia needs to get control of the high number of lawsuits filed in the state, he continued.
"We need an intermediate court so badly, and we need leadership to take these issues on and fix that," Maloney said. "Our tax code is archaic. We can give a tax break to a cracker - I agree, we need to do these kinds of things. But what about all their customers and suppliers? We need to fix the way we tax and make it fair for everyone and quit picking winners and losers - because most of the time we pick losers."
Tomblin responded that he instead sees positive things happening in the state.
"We've got a lot of good things going on in West Virginia - a lot of good marks in a lot of different areas," he said. "And (Maloney) normally points out everything bad that is going on, or what he perceives as bad that's going on in West Virginia ... "
Tomblin also pointed to the opening of the state's first business court in Martinsburg this week, which he believes will be helpful to business.