FAIRMONT – For years, Jody Murphy has seen his home state of West Virginia rank low in areas such as education, economy, health care and population in comparison with other states.
Now, Murphy, a former journalist and economic development official from Wood County, believes he has the ideas to change his state for the better. Murphy is running for governor of West Virginia as a Democrat.
“We have to do things differently – we have to try things differently,” said Murphy, 46. “I tell everybody I’m pragmatic, I believe in things that work, and it starts with working West Virginians, they are my top priority.”
Murphy comes from a background of government news reporting for the Parkersburg News, and more recently positions at the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pleasants County Economic Development Authority.
Murphy announced his run for the governor’s seat in January, and put together a platform based on serving the Working West Virginian using the knowledge he gained from these positions, he said.
“I understand government, I understand how it functions, its nature and how it does what it does,” Murphy said. “With the Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, I got a first hand look at government, specifically economics and how it needs to move and grow and change to help the state of West Virginia.”
One of the first points Murphy wants to address as governor is the industry and economy of West Virginia, and the shrinking population the state has been experiencing over the past few years. He said that with all the land and property left vacant in The Mountain State, land could be given away in hopes a business could begin or come in and jump start jobs and circulate money in challenged areas of the state.
“I want to give land away,” Murphy said. “Why don’t we try and give 100 acres away and see what we get? If we give 100 acres away, we will make that money back, provided they meet a certain criteria.”
Murphy acknowledged West Virginia has had thousands of residents leave the state in the 10 years. He wants to create a culture that attracts others to move to West Virginia from other state.
“I want to create income tax-free retirement communities for people that will target senior living,” Murphy said. “I think we need to put in some broadband, put in some better internet services and transportation services and say ‘This is an entrepreneurship hub,’ and charge no to low rent for these places to get open.
He said such communities would resemble the business model known as a hive, but unlike a hive, these communities would not be government-owned.
On the topic of education, Murphy also pointed out an opportunity to provide free college education through the passing of levies in a similar way tax levies pay for municipal services.
“One of the ideas I want to do is I want to give communities the opportunity to provide free post-secondary education,” Murphy said. “What I’m envisioning are school levies, community based. What if the community of Fairmont decided ‘We want all of our kids to go to Fairmont State and we’re willing to approve a levy that will pay for that.’”
During an interview at The Times West Virginian offices, Murphy also discussed the drug epidemic. He said it’s a complex problem, but the first step could be in the labeling of the issue of addiction. With some counties spending large amounts of money to prosecute drug users, Murphy said the money instead could be used for treatment.
“I think one, we have to address it as a sickness; we have to decriminalize drug use and possession,” Murphy said. “The jail bills are eating these counties alive, Webster, McDowell, I mean they are being overrun with arresting and trying addicts.
“We need to help them, and if we can provide services, that’s great,” he continued, “but can they hold down a job as a plumber or as an apprentice at a trade school.”
For Murphy, it all comes back to opportunity, because in his experience, spending money ends up helping make more money back. He said this has worked well to get people to come to Pleasants County, and it will work with other counties and municipalities in West Virginia.
“If we’re going to keep these campuses filled, we have to recruit residents, we need to recruit families,” Murphy said. “In Pleasants County, we paid. We were one of the only counties in the state that paid people to come live in Pleasants County, to build or buy a home. It was only $2,000, it was small, but if that’ll get you to look at Pleasants County, it’s worth it.”
All these plans, Murphy said, are focused on giving working people who make up West Virginia a better chance, and the rewards of this work will multiply with their boosted opportunity.
“Working West Virginians, they’re first, they’re my No. 1 priority with a bullet,” Murphy said. “Everyone else is second.”
Murphy will hold his first campaign fundraising event at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at 1010 Market St. in Parkersburg, where he will also be answering questions about his ideas and his campaign. He is currently travelling the state to talk to “anybody and everybody,” and said the campaign trail will be long, but he believes in his ideas.
“I’m a long shot, and I get that,” Murphy said. “But I really believe in my ideas; my ideas will work, they will improve West Virginia, so I’m in it for the long haul and I’m not going away.”