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Berkeley County teen makes legislative history

Journal photo by Ron Agnir  Saira Blair gives an interview on the phone as she and her friends and supporters monitor the election counts at a gathering in Martinsburg on Tuesday evening.
Journal photo by Ron Agnir
Saira Blair gives an interview on the phone as she and her friends and supporters monitor the election counts at a gathering in Martinsburg on Tuesday evening.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. –Months of speculation ended Tuesday night when Republican newcomer Saira Blair bested two other candidates to become the youngest person ever elected to the West Virginia Legislature.

Blair, who will represent the 59th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates, received 1,984 votes or 61.79 percent in Berkeley County, compared to Democrat Layne Diehl’s 969 votes or 30.18 percent. Third place went to Constitution Party of West Virginia candidate Jeff Becker, who got 254 votes or 7.91 percent.

In the four Morgan County precincts included in this district, Blair also led by a similar percentage. She received 1,147 votes or 64.15 percent compared to Diehl’s 547 votes or 30.59 percent and Becker’s 93 votes or 5.2 percent.

Now a freshman at West Virginia University, Blair, 18, will replace former delegate Larry Swann of Doddridge County who was 20 years old when first elected to the legislature in 1972. Blair was a senior at Hedgesville High School when she defeated incumbent Larry Kump in the May primary.

No stranger to politics, Blair – daughter of Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley-subsequently received state and national media attention, including the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, National Public Radio and Fox News.

However, Blair said again Tuesday that neither fame nor her age is the issue – it’s all about helping make a difference for other West Virginians, especially those living in the parts of Berkeley and Morgan counties she’ll be representing.

“I guess someday this will be a funny story to tell my grandchildren, but right now there are a lot of other things that I’m more concerned about,” said Blair, who spent Election Day holding a sign along W.Va. 9 adjacent to James Rumsey Technical Institute, which served as a polling place for three Hedgesville precincts.

A fiscal conservative, Blair also billed herself as pro-life, pro-family, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-West Virginia during the campaign.

One of the first issues she’d like to work on in Charleston is the state’s Unfair Trade Practice Law, which has been largely responsible for the state’s high gasoline taxes, said Blair, who spent part of the evening celebrating with family, friends and supporters at a local restaurant.

“But I do realize that I’m going in there green, so I want to do some learning and take time to understand the process,” she said.

Despite having gone through several elections with her father, Blair said it’s different no that she is the candidate.

And even after the votes were counted, Blair said she’s still not used to the idea of being an elected official.

“I’m excited, but it isn’t real yet. I think it will hit me when I’m driving back to Morgantown to school,” she said.

Diehl, a lawyer now in private practice who previously served as executive vice president and provost of the now defunct Mountain State University-Martinsburg, said she’s happy to have run and considers her candidacy a positive experience.

“It’s been an amazing experience, one that I’ve totally enjoyed and it is also exciting that Saira Blair made state history in this race. I wish her the best moving forward,” she said.

Her “Putting People First” platform is a reflection of personal priorities, priorities that she hopes other elected officials will also focus upon in Charleston, Diehl said.

“I do believe we were able to raise some serious issues that resonated with the people, and I hope these will be addressed by our Eastern Panhandle delegation,” she said.

Becker, who was his party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2010 special election, again focused on campaigning at the grassroots level and knocked on lots of doors since successfully petitioning to be on the ballot.

He campaigned on the importance of upholding the state constitution, as well as specific issues like the need for election reform.

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