Since 1863, West Virginia has been a state defined by hard work, family loyalty, and revolutionary fervor. Today, we are founding the West Virginia Working Families Party in order to reclaim those values.
In 1994, West Virginia’s voter registration was 65 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 4 percent independent. In 2016, we were nearly half Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and close to 20 percent independents.
Voters are fleeing the Democratic Party, but they are not becoming Republicans. They want lawmakers they can rely on to choose West Virginia over Washington, and working families over Wall Street.
Some polls suggest that a plurality of West Virginia voters now reject both major parties. Is it any wonder why?
Political elites have held power for years, and life is no better for working families. Compared to our grandparents’ generation, we’ve got fewer jobs. The jobs we do have are harder to get, harder to keep and pay less. Meanwhile, costs have skyrocketed.
Worst of all, as the middle class has crumbled — and our schools, churches, and unions crumble with it. Is it any wonder that divorce, overdose, incarceration and suicide rates are near all-time highs?
In the last two years, West Virginia’s legislative power brokers fell over themselves to rush through legislation to reduce wages and offer more tax breaks to the wealthy.
Meanwhile, of the five who represent West Virginia in Congress, only one, Sen. Joe Manchin, voted against the so-called health care bill that would have ripped coverage from 210,000 West Virginia families.
In a democracy, the people get the government we deserve. We deserve better than this. And so it is up to us to run for office, to get out the vote, to write our own legislation, and to take power away from those who are hurting our communities and our children.
We are the party for young West Virginians who are staying in West Virginia, because we love this state and we are ready to roll up our sleeves to rebuild it.
We are the party for seniors who remember Kennedy and Roosevelt, and can recall a time when you could raise a family on one salary as long as you were willing to work hard.
We are the party for veterans and coal miners, and anyone who has sacrificed for your country or company only to get left with a bunch of broken promises and raided pension funds.
We are the party for moms and dads working two shifts and still not getting by — because your company pays a poverty wage and doesn’t offer health care or sick days.
We are the party for Lincoln Republicans, Roosevelt Democrats, and independents of all stripes. We are the party for folks who are tired of holding their noses when they enter a voting booth.
We are the party that believes that every group that’s been spit on in West Virginia — workers, women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and more — has more to gain by joining together than by tearing each other apart.
You will not see our party’s name on the ballot. That’s because it is not our goal to lose elections in order to prove a point. Our goal is to win seats and take power. Our party will recruit, endorse, and fight for candidates from existing parties who will be loyal to working families.
In 2018, we may not make many endorsements. But our name will mean something. And our candidates will receive the full weight of our support.
Our vision is simple. We look toward a state where politicians fight visibly for everyday, working West Virginians and stand up to wealthy interests to ensure all of us have healthcare, quality public education, dignified work and secure retirement.
How will we pay for all this? By ending corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich. Got your own idea? Join up, and help make it a reality.
We are the party for anyone who is tired of complaining. Wall Street won’t fix our problems. Neither will any establishment politician.
Our task could not be harder, or more important. Party elites and Charleston lobbyists will use stacks of cash to fight us at every turn. We will have to mobilize voters who have been burned a hundred times before. We will struggle to keep us all under one big tent. We will fail often.
We are not alone. A movement is already growing in West Virginia. We’ve got more citizens in the streets than we have in years. Help us turn that grassroots energy into political power. Welcome to the West Virginia Working Families Party.
This commentary was submitted by founding co-chairs of the West Virginia Working Families Party Andrew Cockburn, Cathy Kunkel, Tina Russell, Ciera Pennington and Stacey Ruckle; and State Director Ryan Frankenberry.