John Unger

Senate Minority Leader

Martinsburg, WV

John Unger was elected to the West Virginia State Senate in 1998 as one of the state’s youngest senators in history and became Senate Majority Leader in 2011.  In the Senate, John has sponsored groundbreaking legislation that has expanded broadband internet, enabled local communities to address transportation needs, and created the State Division of Energy.  Prior to serving in elected office, John worked on a number of economic development initiatives as Vice President of Van Wyk Enterprises, founder of the Employment and Training Search Program, as well as the founder and former president of the West Virginia International Trade Development Council.

John has also led a distinguished career in the non-profit sector.  Taking a leave of absence from college, he worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta coordinating the distribution of relief supplies.  He also served as a member of the International Rescue Committee providing relief for Kurdish refugees following the Persian Gulf War and was instrumental in establishing the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.  From April to July 2003, John served as the Director of Communications for Save the Children International in Iraq, where he helped coordinate humanitarian relief, recovery and reconstruction operations and information management.  He currently serves as Vicar/Pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Pro-Growth Progressive Ideas Shared

Problem

Spills or leaks from aboveground storage tanks can contaminate local water sources, hurting local economies and communities as they must redirect funds to address the problem.

Solution

Senator Unger passed legislation this year which outlines a reasonable regulatory structure to ensure all above ground storage tanks are meeting state standards. The bill requires the creation of a registry of aboveground storage tanks in order to aid inspection and management of the tanks. This legislation also requires the Bureau for Public Health to engage federal agencies in gathering medical information to assess potential long-term health effects associated with tank spills. This approach takes existing disjointed agencies and establishes a framework where necessary information is obtained and shared more efficiently between all parties involved.


Problem

In our expanding digital world, broadband access has become a critical infrastructure for consumers and businesses alike to remain economically competitive.

Solution

Senator Unger is proposing to create an inventory and mapping of broadband availability around the state of West Virginia, to develop a framework for increasing and upgrading internet infrastructure across the state. His proposal also requires intergovernmental cooperation and coordination on finding the best ways to implement these technological improvements effectively. Through increased broadband access, Unger hopes to increase economic competitiveness by ensuring equal access to high-speed internet for all and by attracting more businesses to West Virginia.


Problem

Across the country, counties are losing millions of acres of farmland to urban sprawl each year, resulting in limited crop production and diminished economic growth for these communities who depend on farmland as a primary economic source.

Solution

In 2000, Senator Unger sponsored legislation that created the Voluntary Farmland Protection Act, authorizing county commissions to adopt and implement a farmland protection program and appointing a farmland protection board in order to voluntarily protect agricultural lands from overdevelopment. This act provides a unique opportunity for each participating county to design, implement, fund and administer a Farmland Protection Program that aligns with their particular county’s needs and goals, while outlining state-level guidelines as a resource. The protection of farmland through conservation easements provides many benefits for local communities; the ability to provide a local source of agricultural products; the enhancement of tourism; the preservation of historical and cultural resources; and providing open space for rapidly developing areas while protecting natural resources.


Problem

Food insecurity in children is associated with nutrient deficiencies, increased risk for obesity, poor health, behavior problems, decreased social skills, and academic failure. School-age children from food insecure households have lower grades, more anxiety and aggression, and higher absenteeism and tardiness.

Solution

Child Nutrition Programs have been shown to effectively improve nutritional health and academic performance, reduce behavior programs, prevent obesity, introduce children to new and local foods, improve the school climate and help decrease families’ food budgets. Senator Unger therefore proposed the Feed to Achieve Act, which increases participation in these programs by improving the meal quality, offering multiple delivery systems, and by incorporating more local foods into school menus. This program promotes and supports federal Child Nutrition Programs that are currently in place throughout West Virginia schools and promotes a partnership with the private sector to combat childhood hunger issues in innovative ways.


Problem

More than 1 in 5 West Virginia children live in a household that does not have sufficient access to food. Food insecurity in children is associated with nutrient deficiencies, increased risk for obesity, poor health, behavior problems, decreased social skills, and academic failure. School-age children from food insecure households have lower grades, more anxiety and aggression, and higher absenteeism and tardiness. Meanwhile, 28% of people aged 65 and older live alone and are at higher risk of suffering from loneliness, which can lead to poor physical and mental health.

Solution

Senator John Unger proposed the Summer Intergeneration Community Strong Initiative as part of his Feed to Achieve Act to help address these dual goals. This innovative, intergenerational interactive initiative brings children and senior citizens together during the summer to foster supportive relationships that build strong, healthy communities year round. Children benefit from a nutritious meal and a caring adult who shows them attention and mentors them. And seniors are given an opportunity to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness by providing a meaningful connection to the community.