Southwest Virginia Creative Economy Conference 2015

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, speaks Sept. 21 at the 2015 Southwest Virginia Creative Economy Conference at the Heartwood Artisan Center in Abingdon.

Three political newcomers want to be the Democratic candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith for the 9th District U.S. House seat in November.

All say the Republican incumbent, who is seeking re-election to a fourth term, doesn’t represent the entire district, which they say he doesn’t visit very often.

Derek Kitts, who calls himself a conservative Democrat, used the tornado that devastated Glade Spring in 2011 as an example of how he believes Griffith didn’t step up.

“He didn’t show up for two weeks,” said Kitts, of Christiansburg. “The way I’m wired and the way the Army brought me up is you take care of your people and if you take care of your people they will take care of you. ...His [Griffith] excuse was ... he didn’t want to get in the way. ... That just burned me to the core. You don’t have to do anything. Nobody’s asking you to go save people — just be there, shake hands, show them that you actually care.”

Griffith said in 2011 that he visited Glade Spring the Sunday after the early  morning tornado on Thursday, April 28. He said he was on vacation when the tornado struck.

Bill Bunch, who calls himself a liberal Democrat and environmentalist who believes in green industry, said he decided to enter the race because he’s tired of the congressman failing to represent the entire district and its needs.

“While our district does depend on coal and fossil fuels to a large extent, we are actually quite diverse in our agriculture and other types of manufacturing,” Bunch said. “We need a good, strong coal industry as far as deep mining and steel is concerned, but our people have suffered health-wise and economically by the mining of coal.”

Bunch, from Tazewell County, also believes in legalizing marijuana.

Clay Pugh, a Democrat from Sugar Grove, said he believes that Griffith has had very little presence in the whole district, especially the southern part, which Pugh and Kitts compare to the size of New Jersey.

Pugh says he has spent his life “nurturing people’s spiritual needs” as a clergy member and believes that experience would aid him in representing the district.

“The congressman’s job is not just to represent the people in Washington three days a week but is to spend the other three to four days a week being present with the people,” he said.

Pugh’s said his focus to help people would be to build cell towers and bring high speed Internet to areas that need it along with improving education, income, prosperity, and the well-being of the district’s constituents.

Kitts believes his 24 years on active duty in the Army have equipped him to be a leader for the district.

“You can delegate authority, but you can never delegate responsibility,” he said.

Health care is Kitts’ other hot button issue. He said the Affordable Care Act is a good starting point, but it needs controls. Kitts called it a “crying shame” that thousands come out every year to get free medical care at Remote Area Medical clinics in the district because they can’t afford health care.

“There needs to be other options because as RAM shows you there’s a large need,” he said. “At the end of the day, I just want to help people. ...Too many people and politicians have an over-exaggerated feeling of their own self-importance.”

Bunch said he believes the Affordable Health Care Act is really just an insurance company welfare bill.

Griffith, from Salem, told the Bristol Herald Courier that it’s obvious there’s still work to be done in the district.

“I came here saying that I would fight the Obama administration on their anti-coal policies and other policies that hurt business,” he said. “I have been one of the leaders in that fight in the House [of Representatives].”

Griffith said he wants to continue his work on the “regulatory scheme that is overly burdensome” on the coal industry and farmers.

He added that’s he’s worked to protect gun rights and believes he has made headway in building his credibility with the House’s Health Subcommittee, particularly in rural health, including telemedicine and mental health issues.

No other Republican candidates for the congressional seat have surfaced.

spell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @BHC_Lurah | www.facebook.com/lurah.lowery

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