The drug problem that has devastated southeastern Kentucky in recent years creates more problems for the area than just the obvious ones, like crime, the quality of life and destruction of families.
82nd Representative Regina Bunch noted that when she talks to a business, like Target, which might be interested in locating a store in southeastern Kentucky, she often gets a question that she has difficulty answering.
“The first thing they talk to me about is this. Can 120 people pass a drug test? I am thinking, ‘You know. I don’t know. I don’t know if we have 120 (job seekers) that could actually stay sober and pass a drug test,'” Bunch said. “This is something going forward that we have to eradicate. We have to get a hold on, and we have to stand strong as a communities and families in order to be proactive and work against this epidemic.”
Bunch was one of the candidates for office, who addressed members of the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce during a candidate’s forum, which was held Tuesday afternoon as part of the chamber’s monthly membership luncheon.
Only three of the invited 12 candidates attended Tuesday’s luncheon forum, including Bunch and Williamsburg City Councilwoman Mary Ann Stanfill, who are both incumbents seeking re-election, and Ed McGrath, who is one of the three candidates running for two positions on the Williamsburg Independent Board of Education.
Those invited candidates, who did not attend Tuesday’s election forum, included: Williamsburg City Council candidates Laurel Jeffries, Erica Harris, Loren Connell, Patty Faulkner, Richard Foley and Adam Sulfridge; Williamsburg school board candidates Allan Steely and Jason Caddell; and 82nd Representative candidate Bill Conn.
This past April, Bunch completed her fifth session as a legislator in Frankfort.
Bunch noted that she has several legislative priorities. Two of the highest ones are shoring up funding for the state pension system and a need for total tax reform.
Bunch said that she feels much better about the pension system after some steps were taken during the past legislative session.
“I think we will take care of it because we have to be solvent to operate. Any politician worth their weight is not going to let it go down without a fight. I am concerned but optimistic as far as the pension system goes,” she added. “Our tax system is antiquated. It is holding us back as far as being business friendly. We just need total tax reform to be able to market the commonwealth in the way that we should.”
Stanfill is a retired Williamsburg schoolteacher, who has served on the city council for 14 years.
“I believe in and I love Williamsburg. I see the opportunities to address our economic problems and issues and revenue challenges and making sure that our citizens receive the services that they deserve,” Stanfill said. “I am excited about Williamsburg. I am excited about continuing with the projects that we have planned, and working with our fine mayor and our strong city council on our planned projects.”
She noted that she had hoped she would have been about the ninth or 13th candidate to speak at Tuesday’s forum.
Instead, she was the second of three candidates to speak.
“I am a proud resident of Williamsburg and it feels like home,” Stanfill said quoting the city motto in her closing sentence.
McGrath, who is currently assistant to the president at the University of the Cumberlands, noted that he unsuccessfully ran for school board two years ago missing election by 25 votes. He is making a second attempt this year.
McGrath noted that when he first decided to run for school board two years ago, he insisted that he first had to convince himself that he had the needed traits to be a school board member.
During that time of self-evaluation, McGrath noted that he came up with a list of four personality traits or qualities that he thinks every school board member should possess, and he added that he does possess all four, including: education, business knowledge, experience with non-profits, which a school system essentially is, and having “skin in the game.”
McGrath has a bachelor’s degree from American University and is currently enrolled in the University of the Cumberlands MBA program.
Prior to going to work for the University of the Cumberlands, McGrath noted that he spent 15 years working in the retail automobile business.
He served as general manager for two different automobile dealerships for a total of eight of those years.
McGrath also spent five years serving as chairperson of Leadership Tri-County, which is a non-profit organization, and he currently raises funds for the University of the Cumberlands.
McGrath currently has two daughters that attend Williamsburg. One is a senior and the other is in fifth grade.
McGrath noted that, if elected, there are two questions he would ask himself about any issues or measures that come before the board.
The first is how will it help the children? The second question is does it hurt the children?
“I will never doing anything to jeopardize or comprise the safety of the kids in any way,” he added.
McGrath noted that one of the biggest needs for Williamsburg schools is technology.
“Technology has not been a priority in years past. Folks, our kids are no longer competing for jobs against kids from Corbin, Whitley County, Knox County, McCreary County or London. They are competing with kids around the globe,” McGrath told the crowd.
“If you don’t have the technology in the hands of the kids, these kids are going to be set up for menial jobs the rest of their lives.”
McGrath noted that there are ways of getting funding for the technology besides tax dollars, such as fundraising and grants.
“There are foundations and companies that support public school education,” he added.
The chamber of commerce has another election forum, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 2 in Corbin, for candidates running for Corbin City Commission.
Southeast Kentucky Rehabilitation Industries (SEKRI) was the sponsor for Tuesday’s luncheon.
SEKRI spokesperson Stan Baker noted that the non-profit organization was started in 1971 to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The organization currently employees 530 total people at its four Kentucky facilities and one Tennessee facility in Jellico.
“Over 300 of those 530 people have some kind of significant disability,” Baker noted adding that it is nice to work for an organization where more than half of the people are glad to be at work each day.
The company manufactures various items, such as clothing for the military, including over one million hats or covers for the military each year.
Another new venture for SEKRI is sewing coats for another non-profit organization, Operation Warm, which was started in 1998 and provides new cold weather coats for low-income children ages 3 – 12 years old.