I have made no secret about being a lifelong Democrat and a descendent of a family who embraced FDR. They were mostly public servants who lived by the same commitment to good government where people feel responsible for the well-being of their neighbors, known and unknown.
At the same time, like many others, I have seen the deep conflicts within the party, also going back to FDR. History tells us that he courted the Southern states in order to get his programs through Congress.
To protect his agenda he apparently did not allow Eleanor Roosevelt to publicly support a critical anti-lynching bill during a time when these horrors were still going on. It was reported that she sat in the audience with her knitting as a silent witness to her strong feelings in support of the bill.
After spending 30 years around our state Legislature, I also know as well as anyone the importance of our elections and who they put into power.
During this past year our whole nation has had a front row seat on the impact of the presidency on the most life and death decisions that affect every one of us.
Having said this, I am most concerned about who we are as a people in our state and in our country and how we view ourselves based on our perceptions and whatever evidence we have. From this perspective, I am not as concerned as do or die Democrats might be about the data that Hoppy Kercheval reported on in a recent column.
He said that as of June 428,542 of our fellow citizens here are registered to vote as Republicans. 396,079 are registered as Democrats, 249,951 have no party affiliation/independent, 36,844 are listed as “other,” while 8,818 are registered with the Libertarian Party and 2,147 are members of the Mountain Party.
In terms of percentages, 38.18% of all registered voters are Republicans, 35.29% are Democrats and 22.27% are independents. His focus was how the Republicans are gaining ground at the expense of the Democrats. Whether or not this was his intent, the potential effect of the way he presented this data might be to demoralize Democrats and encourage them to give up.
The takeaway for me is very different from his. This data tells me that, despite a well-oiled machine based in part in our fundamentalist churches, Republicans only represent 38.18% of all registered voters. 58.57%, or well over half, plus those with “other” or minor party affiliations, are not Republicans.
These numbers also do not include the numbers or percent of our overall population of adults who are eligible to vote but have not registered.
We also know that only a portion of our registered voters voted in the 2020 election. So even though the last POTUS won something close to 70% of the vote and the Republican Party swept the state elections and gained in our Legislature, these numbers do not necessarily, in and of themselves, represent a majority of our people.
Of course, we cannot know how anyone voted in the general election or the extent to which people crossed over from one party to support someone from the other party. We can assume the worst based on the strong majorities for the Republican candidates, but we also know that there were registered Republicans and independents and others who voted for Democrats.
We also know that nationally and even in our state the demographics are not necessarily all on the side of our state’s majority party. As Makenzie Mays points out in her deeply insightful article for Politico Magazine, even the younger highly-paid professionals that the state is fighting to attract here may be likely to enrich the more liberal base in the cities that are being targeted. (I cannot help but point out the irony of looking to benefit from the income taxes they will pay at the same time that our governor is hell-bent on doing away with this same tax.)
We have had evidence for years of the campaign by Republicans nationally to suppress the vote as the only way they can continue to win elections over the long term. This movement has now come to a head with the introduction and passage of so many restrictive bills across such a large number of Republican-controlled states.
As Gary Trudeau pointed out in a recent Doonesbury cartoon, this whole voter suppression movement is being fueled by a racist appeal to a bigger lie about the Presidential election. From an even broader perspective, this divide and conquer dynamic can be viewed as taking place in the context of people in power who put their carbon-based wealth above the future of life on our planet.
Our own state was only spared from more voter suppression when a bill pushed by our governor and secretary of state in this year’s regular Legislative session was stopped by Delegate Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
We need to recognize that, even though this bill was stopped, we will still move backwards from where we are now when the state of emergency order expires and we no longer have the right to no-excuse absentee voting. The governor and secretary of state could have promoted legislation to protect this right. Instead they clearly chose to go in the other direction.
It is telling to me that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., feels that his amendments to the For the People Act made the bill acceptable enough to a majority of our county clerks that he was willing to vote to move the bill forward. We now need him to go further to remove the barriers created by the filibuster in order to get the bill passed.
Mays ended her article with the following positive quote from Gayle Manchin in her role as the head of the Appalachian Regional Commission: “People will begin to understand and appreciate that we can’t continue to live in the past, we can’t continue to look back. We’ve got to be where we are, and then move forward. I think it will come, I’m optimistic about that.”
I prefer to share her optimism rather than to write ourselves off based on how we or others view us. As stated by so many of the wonderful speakers at the powerful Freedom Ride rally at the Capitol, tireless volunteers are already working throughout our state to expand our electorate. They are not going away.
Each of us can also play a role in this process. We are in the right place at the right time to contribute to the change that is needed. We need to believe in the capacity of our fellow citizens to learn and to grow in a way that serves the best interests of our great state and great people.