Opinion: The W.Va. Democratic Party must represent the working class

From The Spirit of Jefferson, Charles Town, W.Va.:


For The Spirit of Jefferson

As an adult, I have always thought that speaking out and speaking up is of the utmost importance.  As a child, I was molested by an adult neighbor; one of my biggest regrets from that experience is that I never spoke up.  I have carried an enormous amount of guilt for years because I felt my silence may have caused someone else to live through this horrible experience as well.  Could my speaking out have saved them? I will never know. That experience is what has caused me to speak out about the hypocrisy that exists at the helm of the West Virginia Democratic party.

When I ran for State Auditor in 2016 after the incumbent had decided not to run for office again, it was quite the eye-opening experience.  It was through that experience that I realized that we were calling out the speck in the GOP’s eye while we allowed the plank to remain in the eye of the West Virginia Democratic Party. That experience reminded me of the years of abuse that I kept hidden and often tried to ignore because I felt I had an obligation to protect my parents from sharing my feelings of pain.  It is very disappointing when someone you respect uses their position of power to fulfill the own selfish needs.

As a lifelong West Virginia Democrat, I truly believed we were the party of the working class. You can imagine my surprise when I was warned by people who had previous political experience that my 22 years of experience as a real auditor wouldn’t matter– that the only thing that matters is the amount of money that you can raise.  It was during this time that I also learned that Joe Manchin ran the West Virginia Democratic Party, and if Joe wasn’t for you, you would be placed in the “block party.”

I shocked our state by securing the Democratic nomination instead of the political establishment’s hand-picked candidate. After securing the nomination, I reached out to the party to discover what type of assistance the party offered to their nominees.  I was truly surprised by the outcome of this meeting. During that meeting, all I discovered was excuses as to why I shouldn’t have won. Other inner circle establishment Democrats told me it was because of my race and class. They just didn’t think a black, working class woman could win a general election in West Virginia.  I, on the other hand, believed that if the people of West Virginia could meet me, I could earn their votes. Although those derogatory comments stayed in the back of my head, I tried to ignore the naysayers and unify the Democrats. Many still remember my moving speech at the West Virginia Democratic Party Convention in 2016.

Instead of helping me and many other Democratic nominees during the general election, the party chose to focus on helping Jim Justice, although at every chance he let them know who he was. The Democratic elitists  stood for what we supposedly fought against.  We have always said we represent the 99 percent but when it comes to action, the opposite is true.  We would rather sacrifice the 99 percent in order to protect the 1%. We know trickle down economics doesn’t work and neither does trickle down politics.

In 2018, I decided to run for State Senate in District 17. Although the chair of the state Demoracratic Party and the director of the state Democratic Legislative Council told me that nobody else was running for that position, I ended up facing an unexpected primary challenge. Unfortunately, I didn’t secure that nomination. During this second run for office, I was reminded once again that there was no way Joe Manchin and the party elites would allow me to secure that nomination. Now I understand why people choose to stay out of politics. But at some point, we must wake up and address the elephant in the room and reveal what’s going on in our party.

The West Virginia Democratic Party must represent the working class in our state. Not only that, but they must work to repair the damage to the party and to the state of West Virginia that party elites have caused by shouldering out working class candidates and constituents while touting the accomplishments of the working people of our state as their own.

We often hear them tout coal and how they stand up for coal miners. I grew up in a coal community and even when coal was booming, you couldn’t see the effects of that wealth.  The wealth was stolen right out from under the feet of our people. A friend of mine says each coal train had a hidden gold car on it that represented the wealth being taken elsewhere. It is our communities that have carried the burden of keeping the lights on in West Virginia and paying the bills in Charleston, but what do we have to show for it?

It is now that I believe I must speak up and speak out. We must all speak up and speak out.

We have been taken advantage of by politicians for too long and it’s time we take a stand and say enough is enough. We want representation.

This may be the year that West Virginians show the world what 55 strong looks like. Vote incumbents out of office if they haven’t properly represented your area. Look at your communities and ask: What has my representative done for me?

After the 2016 election, several Democrats, along with county executive committees,  called for the resignation of the chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party but it fell on deaf ears. We must look at our party leadership and ask: How can my party move forward and attract better candidates if we allow the devil to be at the head of the table?

Do we think those in charge will be satisfied after they accumulate enough power and wealth? That they will then represent the working class, and allow us to rebuild the party?

We must make a demand of the West Virginia Democratic Party: They must help all our nominees equally, and they must begin now.

– Mary Ann Claytor writes from her home in Kanawha County

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