Politics, Economy Collide in West Virginia

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CBNNews.com -- CHARLESTON, W. Va. - It's wild and wonderful, and the center of attention.

All eyes are on this new and unlikely battle ground state which is rich in coal, oil, timber and natural gas - highly sought after natural resources.

"West Virginia is a very diverse state. You have what I call five states in West Virginia," said Sen. H. Truman Chafin, the state's Senate Majority Leader. "We have the eastern panhandle which is near Washington DC, and the Virginia highlands. They're very different from the northern panhandle which is near Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania-Ohio line and the Charleston-Huntington market is different from the southern coal fields. So we're divided depending on the region you're from."

This makes West Virginia a challenge for any Presidential candidate.

"We have two Democratic parties in West Virginia," Chafin said. "You have the very conservative Democrats, and they're called 'Republicrats' and then you have the more liberal Democrats."

And as Sens. Barack Bbama and Hillary Clinton hit the state they're hearing an all too familiar and troubling song.

"I'm probably more fortunate than some people because I don't pay rent," Vernon Carpenter, a West Virginia resident said. "And those who choose between medicine, rent groceries and all that stuff probably have to walk where they want to go. It's bad. It's bad."

Employment and construction jobs are down, wood products manufacturing has slipped and like the rest of the country - home construction has dwindled.

A sign of troubling times that are starting to hit west Virginians extremely hard - where it hurts most: their wallets.

"It does affect my daughters and my sons," Arlene Lark, another West Virginia Resident said. "They have diesel trucks and it's very high now. One is in business - a tree business and it's costing him a fortune."

You could really go anywhere in America to tell a story of economic hardship. There are countless stories. But in West Virginia, it has been especially hard. West Virginia has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. This state knows a thing or two about economic hardships.

But a group of Christians is teaming up to erase that cloud of despair.

Believe in West Virginia is made up of community leaders who are Democrats and Republicans, clergy and business people, churches of varying denominations all with one goal in mind.

"We believe that God is poised to bring an economic revival to the state of West Virginia," Ed Gaunch, president of Believe in West Virginia Said. "If we as believers will just get on board, humble ourselves as the scripture says. We believe he's going to do it."

They hope that belief in West Virginia will also help improve the state's bad reputation.

"They look at a West Virginia that's still behind the rest of the 49 states," retired General Joe Scaff said. "But in fact when you come through West Virginia, the people, the natural resources, the opportunities we have are considerably greater than most of the states."

The organization was the vision of Pastor Jack Henry.

"In 2001 the Lord spoke to me very clearly and he said I didn't tell you to go to the world he said if my people which are called by my name and will humble themselves," Henry said.

And from there things took off!

"One of the things this organization is trying to do…is to restore not only what we already know to be true," said Gary Midkiff who is a member of Believe in West Virginia. "But put it back in the hearts of the people; make them proud to be West Virginian."

The company "Carbonoks" could be called a product of Believe in West Virginia. Both Henry and Midkiff founded the company.

It builds the "Safe Haven" chamber for coal miners - protecting them from accidents like the 2006 sago mine disaster.

"So, that's an example of what we hope to do - create jobs, create opportunity, good paying jobs with benefits," Gaunch said.

And with the West Virginia primary right around the corner, many people want more of those opportunities and good paying jobs brought to the state.

Clinton is currently ahead in the polls as she pushes for more green jobs and cleaner coal, and she has a good chance to take the state.

"But I look for a hard fought primary, but if I were to guess who would win now, I would say that Senator Clinton has a comfortable lead," Chafin said.

But no matter who wins it all boils down to what the people want and need, and that's a fact that is not lost on the candidates.

"I went so many years without health insurance." Larck said. "I think that's one of the number one, and care for children, like they have it here - Medicare for children that's good"

West Virginia resident Louise Lighter told CBN News that the war was a major issue for her.

"This war -- it's got to cease," Lighter said.

Meanwhile, Carpenter said, "you hear promises from politicians all the time, that's normal. But you just try to weigh out the best."

They sure are hoping for better economic conditions here West Virginia but ultimately some find hope in something much greater.

"People are looking for hope, and the truth is the only hope that means anything is in Jesus Christ," Gaunch said.

A very special "thank you" goes to Pastor Ron and Nancy Thaxton of Church in the City for helping with this story.

Originally Published May 7, 2008

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