I find it exciting to watch the grassroots movements overtaking America. No longer are the people being complacent. Instead, they are rising up in large numbers and demanding that their elected officials listen to the masses and meet the needs of their constituents. I anxiously await to see where this movement will lead, for it is not over, at least if we want to see real change. We must continue to be vigilant and fight to create an America that is a shining beacon to the world, and does not leave a significant portion of its citizens in poverty.
A great level of political involvement has occurred right here in West Virginia. Teachers, service personnel, state employees, and their supporters spent nearly two weeks rallying at the capitol and around the state in hopes to improve working conditions. West Virginia has a strong history of standing up for workers, from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which started in Martinsburg, to the coal miner strikes in southern West Virginia, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, and the more recent teacher strike in 1990.
As a profession, teacher pay in West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation. Coupled with rising PEIA costs and new mandatory health standards, West Virginia teachers had had enough. The one percent pay raise offered by the governor and the legislature was an insult to teachers and public employees. Even after the governor offered vague promises to fix PEIA in the future, teachers knew that they deserved more and found broad support around the state, including from many vocal Democratic legislators. The results of this perseverance by teachers, and the feet-dragging by Republican Senators, was a five percent pay raise and the formation of a PEIA taskforce. The downside of the taskforce is that it is a very bloated body, consisting of 29 individuals. Representation from the eastern panhandle include Republican State Senator Craig Blair, and Berkeley County Public Schools Director of Staffing and Employee Relations, Amy Loring.
But, this workers’ rights movement did not end with West Virginia teachers and public employees. Currently, Frontier employees in West Virginia are striking in hopes of receiving job stability. Teachers in Kentucky are rallying against proposed cuts to their pension plan, one of the worst funded in America. And teachers in Oklahoma are threatening a walkout starting April 2nd if they cannot secure a pay raise. These groups were emboldened by the success of West Virginians simply fighting for a better way of life.
Of course, additional movements have been taking place for other issues. The one getting the most attention deals with gun reform. What makes this especially impressive is that students, mainly from Parkland, Florida, have been the catalyst that has started a true dialogue about access to guns and the safety of schools. Students across the nation staged a walkout last week to remember the 17 students who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. A “March For Our Lives,” is scheduled for March 24th in Washington, D.C. At the very least, this movement is forcing people to examine second amendment rights and the place for guns in society.
One of the most effective means to bring about change is by voting. This past legislative session, many West Virginia legislators showed their true colors. Their disdain for public employees was evident by their actions and through their words. Every Delegate is up for election this year, along with a number of Senators. We are lucky to have a strong group of candidates running in Berkeley County. The latest to announce her candidacy for the 2018 elections is Barbara Frankenberry, who will take on the winner of the Republican primary between Eric Householder and Wendy Bird for the 64th district.
All of the local races are sure to be hard-fought. Therefore, your help is needed if we are going to Turn Berkeley Blue and retake the state legislature. Get to know your candidates and volunteer your time, talents, and money to ensure success this November. Any help that you can offer will be greatly appreciated.
Before the November elections, West Virginia will hold primary voting on May 8th. While none of our local candidates for the House of Delegates or Senate will face a primary opponent, this election is extremely important. Along with primary races for U.S. Senate between Joe Manchin and Paula Jean Swearengin, and the U.S. House of Representatives between Aaron Scheinberg and Talley Sergent, this is the only ballot for local judicial races and the Berkeley County Council. The elections are resolved during the primary election and will not proceed to the general election in November. Therefore, time is short to research these candidates. Please take the time to get to know each one and find out where they stand on the issues.
Remember, West Virginia has a semi-closed primary. Registered Republicans will vote for Republican and nonpartisan candidates, while registered Democrats will vote for Democrats and nonpartisan candidates. Those voters registered as Independent or No Party can decide which ballot they wish to vote. Nearly 31% of registered voters in Berkeley County are registered as No Party, so we must strive to reach out to this group as well, especially in November. The last day to register or change registration for any election in West Virginia is 21 days prior to that election.
I hope you will consider becoming more involved during this election season. We have already seen great gains in Georgia and Pennsylvania, among other places. The conditions are perfect for Democrats to retake local, statewide, and national legislatures and restore some sanity to the legislative process. You can join us for BCDA meetings on the fourth Monday of each month at The Salvation Army, 111 Ellis Street, starting at 7:00. We are still looking for a Secretary to serve on the Board. Also, please do not forget to pay dues for 2018. The ten dollars collected from members goes directly to candidate support.
Jeffrey A. Marcum
Berkeley County Democratic Association