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RCB 1st stop of Gov.'s state tour

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Less than two days after taking the oath of office, Gov. Bob Wise put education first on his statewide tour agenda.

Addressing students, staff and local residents at Robert C. Byrd High School on Wednesday, Wise quoted a Bible passage to illustrate his view on the importance of education, as he referred to it as "finer than spun gold or silver and more precious than rubies."

At one point, Wise pulled $6 out of his wallet and showed it to the students.

"This is about what you'll make (an hour) if you don't finish at this institution," he said.

Then he took out $8 to show about what those with a high school diploma typically earn an hour.

"On average, just by staying (in school) you've increased your income by about 70 percent," Wise said.

He continued with the demonstration until he held a $20 bill in his hand -- what he said a college graduate can make.

Wise then asked for the crowd's help in promoting his proposed PROMISE Scholarship program.

The Legislature passed the PROMISE scholarship a few years ago, but it has not been funded. It would use state money to pay the tuition of students who maintain a B average, regardless of their financial need.

"We'll make (a) commitment to you: If you work hard and play by the rules, we'll make sure you have a way to get to college," he said.

"Whether it's through grants or student loans we'll put together a package of financial aid to get you there."

Following his initial remarks, Wise answered questions from the students. Some dealt with his economic plan for the state, attracting new jobs, how he plans to teach morals in schools and coal mining.

"One thing that's going to have to stop in this state is the thinking that we have to have either coal or a clean environment," Wise said. "Over the next four years, I'm going to work to have responsible mining and the jobs it brings and a clean environment."

Another student asked Wise for his views on gun control laws. After outlining arguments on both sides of the issue, Wise said he has consistently voted against such measures.

"I have not seen the value of a lot of the gun control laws in reducing crime," he said.

Instead of more laws, we need to impose maximum sentences on those who break the law, Wise said to a round of applause.

No subject was off the table as another student asked about the new governor's stance on abortion. Wise again outlined both sides of the issue, then said that he believes the decision should be left up to, "the woman, her doctor and her God."

"I believe this is a decision that has to be dealt with in the hearts and minds of people," he said. "This is not an issue the law will decide."

Wise drew another round of applause from the audience when he answered a question about whether or not he wants to raise teachers' salaries.

"You're darn right I do," he said. "It's not going to be easy though."

Wise said he plans to develop a package that will raise the salaries to the national median over a period of years.

The governor was scheduled to go to Wheeling after leaving RCB, then to Martinsburg and Beckley.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at pdarst@exponent-telegram.com.

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