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Ojeda, Phillips latest to declare runs for Congress

By JAKE ZUCKERMAN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two state legislators from Logan County announced their candidacies for the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

Delegate Rupie Phillips Jr., an independent who said he would join the Republican Party for his run, and Sen. Richard Ojeda, who was elected to the state Senate last year, announced their plans Thursday to run for the 3rd District seat. They joined former state legislator Rick Snuffer, who shared his plans to run Tuesday with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

The flurry of announcements comes after incumbent Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., announced that he would challenge incumbent Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, in the Senate election.

On Thursday, Phillips held a news conference at the state Capitol. He said he would run as a pro-coal, pro-gun rights candidate, and would work to roll back Obama administration regulations on the coal industry.

“The D.C. liberal Democrats put a war on coal and a war on guns, I’ll tell you what, I’m a warrior and I’ll go to D.C. and I’ll fight like hell for ‘em,” he said.

Phillips, 48, is an Air Force veteran who works as a salesman for the mining industry. He was originally elected to the House of Delegates in 2010 as a Democrat. In January of this year, he became a political independent, saying “the citizens of my district want a true independent voice in Charleston.”

During the 2016 legislative session, Phillips handed out small tubes of sunscreen to his fellow lawmakers during a major snowstorm to highlight that he doesn’t believe in human-induced climate change. That puts him on the other side of a overwhelming majority of scientists who say human activity has led to the last three years being the hottest on record.

A few hours after Phillips’ announcement, Ojeda held a rally in Logan County to announce his candidacy on the Democratic side.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, held a rally in Logan County to announce his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives on the Democratic side Thursday.
(Gazette-Mail files photo)

In an interview before the rally, Ojeda said he wants to bring manufacturing jobs into the district along with different pork barrel projects and funding for things like higher pay for correctional officers, along with working to secure retired coal miners’ pension funds.

 Ojeda said Democrats are lacking a political voice in West Virginia, and given how he successfully forced a medical marijuana bill through a conservative Legislature and into law, he’s more than just talk.

“The one thing I have proven is that I can get things done,” he said. “Remember, I was the freshman Senate Democrat who got the most controversial bill passed in the last 50 years, and that was in a completely Republican-controlled Senate and House. I got that done, I worked hard on that, and that’s exact same way I plan to do things.”

Ojeda, 46, is a 24-year Army veteran and is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He ran for the U.S. House seat in 2014 and lost in the Democratic primary to longtime incumbent Nick Rahall, who then lost to Jenkins in the general election.

Last year, Ojeda ran against incumbent state senator Art Kirkendoll. Days before the Democratic primary, Ojeda was assaulted at a campaign event and hospitalized. He defeated Kirkendoll and won the seat; the man who assaulted him, Jonathan Porter, pleaded guilty to felony assault and is to be sentenced on June 7.

Snuffer works as an instructor for adult career technical education in West Virginia and runs his own construction business as well, according to the Daily Telegraph. He has a bachelor’s degree from Bluefield State College and is pursuing a master’s through Marshall University. He served one term in the House of Delegates in 2010, and lost races for the U.S. House in 2004 and 2012, along with the U.S. Senate in 2006.

The conservative Washington Examiner reported this week that Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, would also run for the seat.

Lucas, 35, has headed the state party since 2012. He is also a registered lobbyist for a number of different companies. He ran unsuccessfully against Rahall for the U.S. House seat in 2010s

Along with the action in the House, a candidate for the U.S. Senate announced plans this week to run against Manchin in the Democratic primary.

Paula Jean Swearengin, from Coal City in Raleigh County, issued a news release Tuesday stating she plans to replace lost mining jobs with high-wage renewable energy jobs, provide tuition free college and technical training and expand access to health care through a “Medicare for all system.” Swearengin’s staff declined an interview request for this article.

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