CHARLESTON — While community organizer Stephen Smith failed to win the Democratic primary for governor, the movement he helped create has seen several candidates push through to the general election to face entrenched incumbents.
WV Can’t Wait, which brought together several Democrats, Republicans, Mountain Party members, libertarians and independents, saw more than 43 of its candidates win races on June 9, running on a populist platform to take on the good guys. old boys and lobbyists.
Victories include the election of Rosemary Ketchum as the first transgender woman on the Wheeling City Council, the re-nomination of Morgantown Delegate Danielle Walker as one of five incumbents for the 51st District, a black woman who received more votes in his race for a second term in the House of Delegates than any other House candidate in either party, and sending six teachers in November.
Smith may not join fellow WV Can’t Wait candidates, but he’s proud of what the movement has achieved in its first election.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of anything in my life than this movement, and I’m not going anywhere,” said Smith. “We’re not going anywhere. The plan to win popular government in West Virginia is a laudable one. And one that was always going to take a generation, not an election cycle, and we’re committed to staying as long as it takes.
According to reported results submitted to the West Virginia Secretary of State, Smith lost to Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango in the Democratic gubernatorial primary by 4 points. Salango received 74,781 votes while Smith received 65,530 votes.
Smith, the founder of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, which has since been renamed Our Future West Virginia, and Our Children Our Future, began his campaign for governor in November 2018 after the midterm elections.
But Smith laid the groundwork for his new coalition early on by not focusing the campaign around his name. By calling his WV campaign Can’t Wait, Smith was able to rally different groups, constituencies and candidates under his banner. Smith’s campaign strategy early in the process was to recruit like-minded people to campaign with him and run for office.
“There really is no precedent in the history of West Virginia for what just happened, that in the last two years a group of volunteers came together and built a political movement and a list that has 46 wins in all of West Virginia, in every region of the state.”, said Smith. “This list was also more representative of the people of the West, in Virginia, than any list that either side has ever offered.”
The WV Can’t Wait Coalition included candidates for federal, state and local candidates. It included candidates for county commissions, magistrates’ courts, school boards, mayors and councils, the legislature, the public works board, and congress.
All of the WV Can’t Wait candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives have been successful, including Paula Jean Swearengin challenging incumbent Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va.; Natalie Cline for the 1st Congressional District to challenge incumbent Rep. David McKinley, RW.Va.; and Cathy Kunkel in the 2nd Congressional District to challenge incumbent U.S. Representative Alex Mooney, RW.Va.
In the 3rd Congressional District, Democrats Hilary Turner and Lacy Watson were WV Can’t Wait candidates. Turner, who will face Rep. Carol Miller, RW.Va., narrowly won the Democratic primary over Watson by 67 votes. Swearengin, Cline, Kunkel and Turner are an all-female slate of congressional candidates.
“Not only that, each of us has won our races without taking a penny of corporate PAC money,” Swearengin said in a statement. “We are 100% funded by people.”
All of the WV Can’t Wait candidates have signed pledges never to accept campaign donations from the corporate political action committee.
“We cannot continue to elect leaders whose sole purpose is to get paid to auction off the same corporate lobbyists who flood our mountains with drugs and death for money,” said Swearengin.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Smith broke records for the number of donations under $250 each to his campaign. According to his latest campaign finance report, Smith has raised nearly $1 million for the election year-to-date, $201,816 more than Salango. Smith did so without taking out a single loan to fund his campaign, which relies on $111,718 in cash.
Smith plans to use remaining campaign donations to help other candidates and continue to raise funds to ensure WV Can’t Wait candidates have a fighting chance against the Republican incumbents they face.
“Priority #1 before June 9 was to help a whole bunch of candidates with whatever we could, training, money, field operations, access to social media and credentials, et cetera. is always our number one priority”, said Smith. “I think we’re actually uniquely positioned to do that overall.”
The Legislature is one area where WV Can’t Wait candidates want to make a dent. Twenty-seven candidates for the State House are part of the WV Can’t Wait movement, three candidates for the Senate and 24 candidates for the House of Delegates. Of those races, 13 were in contested party primaries.
After two years of strikes over pay increases and an omnibus education bill that originally contained several provisions deemed punitive by teachers, such as penalties for striking teachers, removal of seniority , charter schools and college savings accounts, six teachers won the primaries for the legislature. .
Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, is seeking a second term in the 43rd District. A social studies teacher at Elkins High School, Thompson sought public office after the 2017 teachers’ strike.
He credited the victory of WV Can’t Wait candidates with emphasizing the needs of local communities over a Republican legislative majority that has focused more on pattern legislation and lobbying from outside advocacy groups. the state.
“That’s why I got involved in the first place. I wanted to be a voice for my district,” said Thompson. “A lot of the legislation that the majority party has passed and pushed through has been attempts by out-of-state corporations and PACs putting a lot of money in their pockets. I think (WV Can’t Wait) takes a step back and says whoa, let’s focus on West Virginia. What the people of West Virginia want instead of what PACs and out-of-state organizations want to advance their agenda here.
Smith said that attitude was what helped grow the WV Can’t Wait platform, which grew from 197 town halls and 11,000 conversations with people across the state from the US. ‘last summer.
Called the New Deal for West Virginia, the platform focuses on increased rights for West Virginia workers, greater protection for unions, higher taxes on out-of-state corporations, the increase in the minimum wage, an increased focus on white-collar crime and political corruption, and a state bank to encourage small business ownership. Other plans include the fight for Medicare-for-All, prescription drug price caps, legalizing recreational cannabis and greater criminal justice reform.
“What you see from our candidates, regardless of party, is adherence to the will of the people of West Virginia. And it’s not just a slogan. said Smith. “What’s emerged is this political platform that people from all political walks of life can look at and say, ‘I don’t agree with everything here, but if we win this, my life is going to get better.’ This is what politics should be.
Smith hopes the populist approach of the WV Can’t Wait candidates can appeal to as many West Virginia voters as possible in November. It’s a movement, he hopes, that will have power in state politics for years to come.
“We never asked which party you belong to or which national politician you voted for when we ask people what matters to them? Because we don’t think that question is worth asking,” said Smith. “In fact, this focus on national politics and giant corporations is exactly what’s wrong with our political system.”
(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])