Friday, January 24, 2020

71 Pro-Labor Candidates Just Filed to Run in West Virginia…Together


At the very end of last year, reporting for the American Prospect, David Dayen explained why he thinks the West Virginia gubernatorial election is the most important race in the country, with "implications that endure the farthest into the future." Dayen wrote that the election "just might inaugurate a new kind of people-centered politics in the heart of what’s assumed to be Trump country... Smith’s bet, that building a people’s movement will generate a deeper well of support to take back West Virginia from a corrupt political structure, would be transformational. It would deliver a roadmap for how to organize in rural towns thought to be lost to the right wing forever. It would identify how to bring in infrequent voters who have given up on politics. It would lay out how to break a corrupt establishment and return government to its people, on principles that bring people together rather than driving them apart. If this can work, it opens up an entirely new style of politics, one rooted in something so simple it’s absurd that it seems so novel: respecting the wishes and needs of the electorate. 'My whole life, I’ve been told that voters are the problem, they vote against their own interests,' Smith says. 'We believe the opposite. Voters are the answer to the problem, not the problem themselves. We think the people closest to the problem should solve it.'"

Goal ThermometerIn 2019 we endorsed Stephen Smith for governor of West Virginia and introduced you to the West Virginia Can't Wait movement. That movement has almost morphed into a political party now, replacing the moribund state Democratic Party, which is little more than a political machine for Joe Manchin. "This has never happened before in our nation," Stephen told me a couple of days ago, "let alone in a place like West Virginia. The wealthy Good Old Boys hate it. But there aren’t nearly enough of them to stop us if we join together and demand what West Virginia has never had before: government by and for our people, not just the powerful."

I asked Stephen to expand those sentiments into a guest post. Please read it-- and if you like what he has to say, consider contributing to his campaign by clicking on the 2020 Blue America gubernatorial thermometer above. David Dayen is right about how important this race really could be for the whole country.

Guest Post
-by Stephen Smith

Two years ago, West Virginia educators sparked a nationwide strike movement. Now, the state’s working class is leading the nation again. On Saturday, a coalition called West Virginia Can’t Wait gathered more than 200 supporters outside the state House chambers to announce that 71 candidates.

Candidates include 11 teachers and school service personnel, like Brittney Barlett (an English teacher running for Delegate in Lewis County) and Johnny Nick Hager (a school bus driver running for Mingo County Commission). Tina Russell is a Black social worker who’s running against an incumbent who suggested that if he discovered his children were gay, he would drown them. Rosemary Ketchum is running a vibrant grassroots campaign for Wheeling City Council; when she wins, she will become the first openly transgender person to hold elected office in West Virginia. The vast majority of candidates are running for the first time.

In a state where less than 20 percent of the legislature are women, less than 10 percent are working class, and less than 5 percent are people of color, the West Virginia Can’t Wait candidates represent the state across race, county, gender, and class lines. And every one of them has signed a pledge, which was read on Saturday at the Capitol by Congressional candidate Cathy Kunkel: “I promise not to take corporate cash… I promise never to cross a picket line… I promise never to hide from a debate… I promise never to punch down.”

Dozens of the WV Can’t Wait candidates filed for office at the Capitol, posing for photos with friends and family who never could have imagined being in this spot. “I’ve never been to the Capitol. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. But I knew I needed to fight for a state where my kid could grow up and make a living,” said veteran David Childers, a first-time candidate for the state senate in the rural 14th district.

Candidates also delivered their “People’s State of the State” address, unveiling the WV Can’t Wait policy platform which had been crowd-sourced during 156 Town Halls. 47 “Platform Parties” and more than 11,000 face-to-face conversations with voters. It includes the first state-level Wealth Tax in the nation, a massive shift from corporate tax giveaways to local businesses and entrepreneurship, full cannabis legalization, aggressive caps on drug prices, public financing of elections, and more-- 32 plans in all, which are being rolled out at

Delegate Danielle Walker, from the 51st House District, was one of 8 candidates who delivered part of the People’s State of the State.
“We will choose the side of miners, by granting a state Black Lung Pension Fund and a jobs guarantee. We will choose the side of women, and advance the nation’s most ambitious guarantee of child care, health care, education, reproductive rights, and economic opportunity. We will choose the side of Black and Brown people, and pass the nation’s most ambitious plan to end mass incarceration and attack the racial discrimination that persists in education, hiring, and health care. We will choose the side of the LGBTQ+ community, and pass the nation’s strongest EHNDA laws, ban conversion therapy, and recognize the dignity of every human being. We will choose the side of homeless people, fighting for a homes guarantee. We will choose the side of veterans by guaranteeing not only higher education and job opportunities, but also our country’s most ambitious mental health care plan, a veterans nursing home in Beckley, and a tax credit for those who have served. And we will choose the side of people with disabilities, by clearing the IDD/Waiver waiting list, ending discrimination in pay and transportation, implementing the Olmstead Act, and growing a disability jobs program.” (View other detailed plans on small business, wages, the overdose crisis, and more at

The WV Can’t Wait strategy is having some early successes. In addition to recruiting and training 71 candidates and defining many of the key issues in the race, many of those candidates are getting early traction. In my own race, we have an early lead in the polls and we have outraised every other candidate in the race-- on both sides of the aisle! Our campaign has more than doubled the previous record for small dollar donations in a West Virginia governor’s race.

Movements are not led by candidates… those people get the most credit. But they are not the ones who sacrifice the most or work the hardest. The most crucial leaders in any movement are the people who do the most work for the least recognition. These people come from every walk of life, but they tend to be mostly women, mostly working class, mostly young people. These people sacrifice what’s most precious to them-- money, security, time with their families-- because they believe in something bigger than any one of us. Our movement is no different. This is the first union campaign staff in West Virginia history.

West Virginia’s primary is May 12th. Follow the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement at

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