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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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Armstrong: Differences in views are obvious

Monday, November 7, 2011

By DEBBIE HALL - Martinsville Bulletin

Del. Ward Armstrong said the differences between his views and those of his opponent in the Nov. 8 election for the 9th District House seat are obvious.

While electric rates and proposed rate hikes are not the only issue in the race, they have been a cornerstone of Armstrong's campaign "because they bleed over into" many other areas, from quality of life for working people and the elderly to job creation and economic development, he said.

The cost of electricity is "a jobs killer," said Armstrong, 55, a Bassett Democrat. He explained that businesses will not locate in the 9th District, or any other area, plagued by high electric rates.

Armstrong held a press conference in Roanoke Wednesday on the electric issue.

Economic development officials in Henry County and Martinsville have said electricity costs prompted one company to locate to New York last year rather than in a shell building at the Patriot Centre industrial park. That move cost the area an estimated 60 new jobs and a $3 million increase in the local tax base, according to previous reports.

Armstrong's opponent, Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, and the Republican Party have said the rate issue is tied to policies and regulations of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and they have aligned Armstrong with President Barack Obama and Washington politics.

"Look, I am not any happier with the events in Washington than anybody else. It is too partisan," Armstrong said in response. "I also don't agree with many of the things that come out of Washington. For example, I oppose cap and trade legislation and always have."

Cap and trade would further regulate emissions.

Also, the argument that EPA regulations are responsible for the spike in electric rates does not hold water, he said. Duke Energy in North Carolina and other electric companies must abide by the same federal standards, but they are not gouging customers, Armstrong said.

Electric rates "have been a crusade for me because they hurt families and businesses alike," he said.

He said he refused to take part in what he describes as "basically ... a back-room deal" with the electric company.

"The deal was they (Appalachian Power) would stop an interim rate increase, but all of the legislation to rein in power rates had to be defeated," he said of bills he sponsored and/or supported.

It would have amounted to an average savings of about $15 over three or four months for residential electric customers, he said.

Armstrong said he was approached about the deal by an Appalachian lobbyist, and he believes all the Southwest Virginia legislators had met with the power company on the subject. He could not say if Poindexter went along with it.

However, "he (Poindexter) is on the campaign trail touting that he sponsored legislation for the interim rate-hike suspension. You don't have to connect the dots very far," Armstrong said.

Poindexter spokesman Matthew Moran said Armstrong is "tossing around baseless and false accusations."

"Del. Poindexter is proud of his work to pass the law that ended the interim rate hikes. While Del. Armstrong's utility legislation has been voted down by a bipartisan majority time and time again, Del. Poindexter's common-sense reforms to Virginia utility laws have received bipartisan support and are today part of Virginia law," Moran added.

"That's what all this is about now," Armstrong said. Republicans "are not wanting to do anything to rein in APCo. They want to silence me, particularly on the electric rates," he added.

Armstrong, the House minority leader, said, "This race never was about electing Charlie Poindexter. It's about getting rid of Ward Armstrong." Poindexter's campaign funds are called "Ward Armstrong's retirement fund" for a reason, he said.

Armstrong also said he is "a staunch advocate" for the Governor's Opportunity Fund (GOF) and similar initiatives to provide incentives to companies locating in Virginia. The fund now holds about $20 million, and it has been "as much as $30 million," Armstrong said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell asked Armstrong to carry a bill to set aside funds to develop mega industrial sites such as the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre in Henry County near the Virginia/North Carolina line, the delegate said. The proposal passed, Armstrong said.

"As far as we can tell, the governor did ask Armstrong to advance that bill" known as HB 1381 in 2010, said Jeff Caldwell, McDonnell's press secretary.

Education is another of Armstrong's priorities -- and another area of contention with Poindexter, he said.

Armstrong said he is "most proud" of his efforts on a bill to create the New College Institute. NCI "is going to be an extremely important part of our recovery over time," he added of the local economy.

But Armstrong said Poindexter voted "to cut $1 million" in state funds from NCI. When questioned about the vote after a recent forum, Poindexter "said he didn't remember (the vote)," Armstrong said.

Poindexter also said that vote was part of a package, but Armstrong said he separated the NCI funds into a separate vote.

"The fact is he doesn't care," Armstrong said.

Poindexter has said he supports NCI.

Transportation also is a priority, and a large part of the infrastructure needed for future economic development, said Armstrong, who was chief patron of former governor Tim Kaine's 2008 transportation bill in the House. Armstrong said that bill would have put more than $1 billion a year into transportation.

Had that bill passed, "we would have had portions of I-73 under construction by now, and we would have" the Lover's Leap portion of U.S. 58 under construction, Armstrong said.

According to previous reports, no specific roads were mentioned in the bill, and projects were to have gone through the state's six-year plan as usual.

On the subject of uranium mining in Pittsylvania County, Armstrong has said it will be important to see the results of a study being done on the safety of mining uranium in Virginia. He said in July that if he were forced to vote on the issue now, before the results of that study are released, he would vote against lifting the moratorium because of safety concerns.

Armstrong practices law in Martinsville.

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