By Chuck Wood
During the 2014 mid-term election there were many different individuals running for office in West Virginia, but largely just one political perspective. Nearly all of the candidates agreed there was a war on coal, regulations were excessive, and that corporate taxes needed to be lowered to create jobs. Half of these candidates were Republicans and half were Democrats, but it was difficult to tell them apart.
Despite strong evidence that all of their claims (for coal, and against regulations and taxes) are wrong, the Republicans won overwhelmingly throughout the state. The Democrats, while saying the same things, lost, perhaps because no one wanted to vote for Republican-Lite when the real thing was available.
Basically, West Virginia voters had no choice.
That is not completely true for there were a few alternative choices, but voters didn’t embrace them. People could vote for a few write-ins and for candidates from the Mountain, Libertarian or Constitution parties. However, these candidates generally received only three-to-four percent of the vote, and none came close to being elected. West Virginia seems to have one newly successful party (Republicans – winning 60 percent of the Legislature), one party in decline (Democrats), and, if you win no seats, nothing else of significance.
There was one other important aspect of the mid-term elections: Far more people stayed home than voted. In fact, non-voters constituted a landslide, being a 63-percent majority. I don’t have the age breakdown yet for the mid-terms, but in 2012, West Virginia ranked last in the nation for voter turnout, especially for the 18-30 year olds.
Mountain State youth and many others here may be too disillusioned to vote. Why bother if you get the same results no matter which party you vote for?
The Republicans do not represent the interests of the vast majority of people in the state, in my opinion. With the lowest average income in the nation, West Virginia needs a higher minimum wage; Republicans are against it. Despite 25 percent of our population receiving Social Security benefits, the state’s Republicans vote against increases, and really want to privatize it.
West Virginia has the greatest percentage increase of citizens getting health care since the Affordable Care Act went into account; every Republican voted against it. West Virginia needs infrastructure repairs and new jobs to be developed in fields other than coal; Mountain State Republicans don’t push these as priorities.
Of all states, West Virginia desperately needs students to succeed in college, but Republicans continually vote against lowering Pell grant interest rates to make college more affordable. The state endures recurring mine disasters and water contamination accidents, but West Virginia Republicans vote to reduce regulations.
It is truly amazing that Republicans win any elections here. The fact they do implies that the Democrats have failed to cut through the smokescreen of massive misinformation to inform the populace. In fact, many Democratic politicians here seem to accept the Republican view.
The Democratic Party has represented the people of West Virginia in Congress and in Charleston for most of the last 80 years. The 35th state has not prospered during that time. Our history is of continuous poverty and exploitation by out of state corporations, facilitated by buying of necessary politicians of both parties. We have been a one party state – the Coal Party.
Democratic senators Byrd and Rockefeller were largely above being bought, and tended, more than our congressional representatives and state legislators, to fight for the common people. They are gone, replaced by a person with Republican ideas who claims to be a Democrat, and a person whose voting record suggests little concern for the actual people of the state, especially where that conflicts with banking interests.
The Democrats were not especially good for West Virginia, but have been replaced by senators I believe are even more beholden to corporations.
Third parties apparently have never won an election in West Virginia in modern times. Electorally, they could be considered as non-participants, but that is too harsh. Historically, third parties have come up with ideas that major parties later take on as their own.
Both the Mountain Party and the Libertarian Party have a number of positions that would be advantageous for the people of WV, but they have failed to get their candidates elected. Good ideas are not enough.
The Republicans, despite electoral success, do not represent the people of the state.
The Democrats have failed over decades to improve the lives of people here, and the third parties have been politically ineffectual. Perhaps the Mountain Party or the Democrats can drastically improve, but both have lots of baggage. I will work with either of them, given strong evidence of change, but perhaps it is time for a vigorous new party to emerge in West Virginia.
A West Virginia Party would be for independents and people from any political party who are fed up with the failures of existing parties and their governance. A West Virginia Party would accept that there is an important role for government to play in defending the nation and its people.
Military defense should be provided by all, for when all of our youth are eligible for military service there is less eagerness to rush to war. Defense also includes protecting our air, land and water. Political decisions should not be made simply on the basis of immediate financial gain, but must also consider the impacts on the entire populace and environment, now and in the future.
A West Virginia Party would recognize, as the Declaration of Independence states in its first words, that government exists to serve people. Corporations, governments and their agencies must be restrained from degrading the general welfare. For example, governments and corporations should not spy on citizens, use imminent domain for purely commercial purposes, nor annually waste a half trillion dollars on weaponry. A strong national government is also required to regulate industries that supply food and medicines, and to ensure fair banking practices. These industries must make profits, but not by worsening the lives of normal people. The entire U.S. prospers most when all of its citizens do.
Should a West Virginia Party come into existence?
A new party would have immense obstacles to overcome. First, the Republicans and Democrats control access to campaign debates. As third-party candidates discovered yet again this year, they have to fight continuously to receive any recognition by the media, and are often locked out of meaningful participation. And in northern West Virginia, where much of the print media is controlled by one family, even major party candidates can be totally ignored.
Many people are completely discouraged, thinking that nothing can change the current corrupt and unfair system. I hope that is not true, but to overcome entrenched interests requires a massive, popular rejection of politicians and their parties.
This can work.
We have seen small-scale examples where citizen outrage has reversed corporate and government plans. For example, in 2011, Bank of America reversed an announced new fee for debit cards within days after social media erupted in protests. And currently, the Federal Communications Commission decision on Net Neutrality has been repeatedly delayed because of huge social media pressure.
People acting together can cause corporations and governments to change their behaviors.
The one thing politicians fear even more than big funders is the people. Contributors can provide millions of dollars for campaigns, but people still have to vote for each politician. A riled up and focused populace, which publicly abandons Democrats and Republicans – not to abstain from voting, but to support a new party – could be unstoppable.
The basis for a new party is already here. In West Virginia, 22 percent of voters already have rejected the Republicans and Democrats by becoming independents. Even members of the major parties are in flux. There are roughly twice as many registered Democrats in the state, but many did not vote for their party’s candidates. And, of course, the biggest group (and opportunity) is the non-voters, who have given up on the existing system.
The failure of our parties is a national problem, and we need an earthquake to fix it, not tinkering. But if one state – especially West Virginia – can show the way, others may follow.
So I ask: Should a new party be formed in West Virginia?
I’m not certain, but this is the time to seriously consider it for there is widespread disenchantment and rejection of both major parties. Starting a West Virginia Party would be a huge undertaking, resisted by Democrats and Republican politicians, but perhaps welcomed by party members, independents, non-voters, and especially young people. A party of, by and for the people, rather than for the powerful interests that have always controlled the state, has a lot of appeal.
Weelunkers: What do you think?