Voters of Bell and Harlan counties will have an opportunity to hear the candidates in the Kentucky House of Representatives 87th District race today. The Bell County League of Women Voters and the Middlesboro Business and Professional Women’s Club will be hosting a candidates forum at 7 p.m. at Middlesboro City Hall.
This forum offers voters an opportunity to speak and meet both candidates — incumbent Rep. Rick Nelson and challenger Josh Howard.
Nelson, after being elected in 2000, first took office in 2001. He has held the post since, despite various challenges over the years.
Nelson said he receives approximately 1,200 phone calls a year from constituents, adding 450 emails and about 120 Facebook messages to the communications with the people of the district. Nelson stated the reason he has not been campaigning more this year is because he has been handling these messages and taking care of the community and its needs.
Nelson said he has been able to get over $10 million for water projects. He said local water companies claim to have been able to provide water service for over 1,500 families on the Pineville and Middlesboro water systems as a result of his efforts in Frankfort.
Nelson said the new Dataseam program he has supported netted about 2,000 computers for area schools.
Nelson claims one of the biggest things he has achieved as state representative is the ability to bring money to the local governments. Nelson said he has brought $1.4 million to Middlesboro, $560,000 to Pineville and $6 million to the Bell County Fiscal Court.
His opponent, Josh Howard said he is promising new leadership and new ideas if he is elected. Howard said he is committed to promote growth and prosperity for Bell and Harlan counties through community development, job creation, investment in the youth of the area and through the support of coal as the area’s richest resource.
Howard said a main goal is to return the majority, if not all, of Bell and Harlan’s coal severance money back to the area. According to Howard, $5.2 billion in coal severance money has been taken from the area with only $886,000 returned.
The promotion of higher education is one of Howard’s top priorities. Howard said he wants students to think about college before reaching their junior and senior years in high school.
“Now you almost need a college diploma to get a job,” said Howard.
Howard said the area has some young professionals, but not enough, adding that is why he is promoting higher education.
Howard said he will sponsor, if elected, a bill to raise the school dropout age to 18. He said Bell and Harlan has a 64 percent graduation rate, noting students should not have the opportunity to drop out of school.
Another important idea Howard wants to promote in the district is business opportunities. He said the area needs to highlight its strengths to promote business. He also wants to continue to develop the park system.
“It’s about the people,” said Howard, noting he sees the need for improvements within the legislative district.
Both Howard and Nelson said they look forward to the forum and speaking with the public.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone at 606-248-1010, ext. 208.