West Virginia is Mistakenly Left out of the Progressive Conversation

A state borne from progress falls victim to the same establishment we’ve always resisted.

West Virginia is not one of those states.

Regardless of the fact that we have four new-to-politics, female, progressive candidates challenging all of our Republican incumbents in Washington, these races have been granted little attention from the Democratic party.

It’s not surprising. The establishment Democrats are unabashedly resistant to giving their support to progressive candidates. We saw it with Charles Booker in Kentucky. We saw it when Nancy Pelosi endorsed Joe Kennedy over Massachussettes incumbent Ed Markey. We saw it when half the presidential primary contenders dropped out the day before Super Tuesday, ambushing patriarch of the progressive movement, Bernie Sanders. And now we are seeing it in West Virginia, where even our incumbent democratic senator, Joe Manchin, has yet to endorse or support any of these four candidates from his own party in any capacity.

It’s also unsurprising because West Virginia has a reputation as one of the reddest states in the country since President Trump’s win in 2016. In fact, West Virginians voted for Trump at one the highest margins of any state; the president received 68% of the state’s votes and claimed every county, according to state election data. In every chart, graph, and article about elections to look out for, we’re always in the solid red category. Our races don’t get attention because, well, they seem pretty hopeless.

I think the lack of attention is a mistake.

West Virginia isn’t a red state because we’ve always been deeply devoted to the GOP. The opposite is true. We’ve been historically blue. Eight of our last ten governors were elected as Democrats (including sitting Governor Jim Justice who flipped parties after his inauguration), and from 1959 until 2015 both of our senator seats were blue. West Virginians turned to the GOP after years — decades — of being overlooked, underestimated, and left behind.

Ultimately, that’s what drew our state to President Trump in 2016 — an outsider to the political system promising that we would be forgotten no more.

I venture to say that the reason we are partial to the rebellious outsider character is because that’s exactly how we identify. West Virginia was borne out of a radical rebellion of the confederation. Our history is bathed in sticking it to the establishment in the name of commitment to our values. When Abraham Lincoln signed our state into the tapestry of the Union in 1863, it paved the way for the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 and the teacher strikes that struck the nation in 2018.

West Virginians have always been anti-establishment. That’s why I think we are a key part of the progressive movement.

This year alone, there has been enormous movement behind grassroots, people-focused candidates in the mountain state. WV Can’t Wait, a coalition of candidates who signed a pledge never to take corporate cash, saw over half of their 90+ primary candidates advance to the general election.

All four of West Virginia’s democratic federal nominees, Paula Jean Swearengin, Natalie Cline, Cathy Kunkel and Hilary Turner, signed the WV Can’t Wait pledge.

West Virginia’s 2020 democratic nominees for federal office. Photo from WV Can’t Wait.

The lack of support from the Democrats in our own state and around the country won’t stop West Virginians from supporting progressive candidates. We don’t care about what the establishment has to say. In fact, we are commitedly unaffected by the status quo. We see right through the good old boys club.

Our people don’t have clean water or jobs. Our miners who made the country rich are dying of cancer and poverty. Time to innovate again. We’ve never been strangers to facing challenges head on.

Meeting this moment is in the DNA of who we are as a state: creators, hard-workers, innovators, fighters. We should claim our place as leaders of the curve, initiators of equity, and champions of change by sending four progressive West Virginian women to Washington. And we should be included in the progressive conversation. We embody the very heartbeat of the movement. We always have.

Making sense of myself, my community, and the world one paragraph at a time.

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