Billiter, Barlett, Smith: It'll take courage to change WV



One hundred fifty-seven years ago, a group of Western Virginians started to meet in secret. They had the courage to rebel against the secessionist majority and form their own Virginia, choosing Wheeling as their first capital. They risked their livelihoods and reputations for freedom.

One hundred years ago, 10,000 union miners — black, white and immigrant — had the courage to take on the coal bosses, Logan Sheriff Don Chafin, the Baldwin Felts agents and, eventually, the federal government. They risked their lives and livelihoods to defend their rights as workers and as Americans.

These last two years, our teachers, cooks, aides and bus drivers had the courage to walk out, 55 strong. First, they walked out for decent pay and benefits. Then, they walked out to protect our kids’ education — even when it would have meant sacrificing their own raises (and for those in Putnam County, it meant lost wages and the possibility of legal ramifications). Those fights fueled a nationwide movement, but of course they are not yet won.

It’s in our blood to summon our courage in moments when the stakes are the highest. Right now is one of those moments.

For decades, Good Old Boy politicians (and the lobbyists and executives that assure their seats in the Statehouse) have gutted our economy by shipping our wealth up and out of state. Meanwhile, these same Good Old Boys, who have made no real efforts to solve our states’ most pressing problems — road collapse, opioid deaths, gutted small towns — have sat around while we’ve fought tooth and nail to rescue ourselves.

To change this, to win a government that works for all of us, we need a whole movement of people choosing courage. For long-time politicos, this will mean risking friendships and comfort to stand up for what’s right over what’s easy. For new voters, it will mean risking time and money to become a donor or campaign volunteer. For first-time candidates like us, it will mean risking public failure to put our names on the ballot against Good Old Boys who are richer than we are.

The good news is, we don’t have to do any of this alone, which always makes courage easier.

We are three of the 48 (and counting) candidates from both parties running as part of the West Virginia Can’t Wait movement. We have signed a pledge never to hide from a debate, never to cross a picket line, never to punch down and never to take corporate cash. We won’t be bought off.

Every day we open our newspapers to be confronted with another story about how West Virginia is backwards. Last in education, last in jobs, first in drug use. But the problem is with our Good Old Boy leaders, not our people.

After the 2016 flood, our leaders built 50 houses in 3 years — while sitting on $147-plus million in federal aid. Our people built more than a hundred houses, with no federal aid. Our leaders start task forces and committees to study our drug epidemic. Meanwhile, our people open their churches and trailers to folks with substance use disorder when hospitals turn them away.

Our leaders voted to send $60 million to out-of-state coal operators. Our people are starting small businesses everyday knowing full well the economy has been rigged against them. Our leaders privatized the health insurance of our 7,000 foster children, so their buddies in the insurance lobby could make more money. Our people always find room for one more foster son or granddaughter.

The difference is courage. Our people have it. Good Old Boy politicians don’t.

The biggest thing we have learned from running for office is that you don’t find the plan to solve our state’s most pressing problems in board rooms. The best ideas always come from those of us who work the hardest and hurt the most. The truth is, in so many ways, we the people are already governing ourselves. Between now and election day 2020, we just need the courage to fight to make it official. Join us.

Levi Billiter is a teacher running for state Senate in District 4. Brittney Barlett is a teacher running for delegate in District 46. Stephen Smith is an organizer running for governor. All have signed the West Virginia Can’t Wait pledge (

Funerals for Thursday, November 14, 2019

Adkins, Patricia - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Breeden, Robert - 1 p.m., Tyler Mountain Funeral Home, Cross Lanes.

Edwards, Charles - Noon, Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Tapley, Myrna - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

White, Patrick - 8 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Whited, Ralph - 11 a.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Williams, Henry - 11 a.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.