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One-time Democratic nominee Charlotte Pritt joins WV governor race with Mountain Party

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Charlotte Pritt explains her platform and why she is running as the Mountain Party’s candidate for governor during her announcement Friday at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

Charlotte Pritt, a former state legislator who, in 1996, was the Democratic candidate for West Virginia governor, filed to run for that same office Friday, but as a member of the Mountain Party, calling herself “the real progressive in the race” and touting a platform of legalized marijuana, stopping hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and reducing corporate power over politics.

In filing her candidacy at the Secretary of State’s Office in Charleston, Pritt characterized her opponents as representing the interests of corporations, pinning blame on the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that writes model legislation often used by Republicans in state legislatures around the country.

“The Democrats and Republicans are both controlled by ALEC,” she said. “The legislation that has been coming from that is so much more conservative and anti-worker, anti-environment and anti-free rights.”

In the 1980s, Pritt served two terms as a Democrat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing Kanawha County. She also served two terms in the state Senate in the ’80s and ’90s.

She unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent governor, Gaston Caperton, in the Democratic primary in 1992. She then ran as an independent write-in candidate in the general election, again losing to Caperton.

Four years later, with Caperton blocked by term limits from running again, Pritt won a crowded Democratic primary, with 40 percent of the vote to Joe Manchin’s 32 percent.

She lost the general election to Republican Cecil Underwood after Manchin declined to endorse her and Manchin’s allies formed a group called “Democrats for Underwood.”

Manchin beat her in the Democratic primary for secretary of state in 2000.

Since then, West Virginia has shifted right politically, while Pritt has moved left. She was the state chairwoman of the Mountain Party from 2012 to 2014.

She supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in this year’s Democratic primary for president, but she now supports Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, citing Stein’s support of free college education and universal health care.

There is no love lost between Pritt and Manchin, now West Virginia’s senior U.S. senator, who she said was once “the national treasure of ALEC.”

She framed her campaign as one of economic justice, social justice and environmental justice.

She called for an end to fracking for natural gas, assailing the gas industry for its efforts to keep secret the hydraulic solutions that it injects into the ground to recover the gas.

“I don’t think, from all the evidence, that there’s any way that you can do it safely,” Pritt said.

She has called for the legalization of marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational use, and as a way to boost the state’s economy and the government’s stagnant tax revenue.

She has proposed growing cannabis as a crop on abandoned strip mines.

She called for reinstatement of the prevailing-wage law on state-funded construction projects, a law that was repealed in the spring by the Republican majority in the Legislature over the opposition of every Democrat.

In discussing social justice, she talked about discrimination not just by race or sexual orientation, but also based on economic status.

Other than Pritt, the candidates for governor are Republican Bill Cole, Democrat Jim Justice and Libertarian David Moran.

Pritt shrugged off the massive financial disadvantage she will face — Justice is a billionaire self-funding his campaign and Cole, a millionaire partly self-funding, is a prolific fundraiser.

Pritt spent about $2 million on her gubernatorial campaign in 1996, but she is unlikely to come anywhere near that sum 20 years later.

“My campaign has always been powered by people,” she said. “People feel empowered, even if it’s a dollar, to be able to participate in the process.”

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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