Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Can a Pro-Coal Democrat in West Virginia Carve a Path for His Party? - NY Times

 Mr. Ojeda’s apparent surge has prompted comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the populist Democrat from the Bronx who knocked off a senior member of the House leadership in a primary. But Mr. Ojeda is not a leftist candidate: he does not want to abolish ICE or provide Medicare for all. He is pro-coal, while denouncing how coal companies stripped the state’s resources and left none of the wealth behind. He supports a public option to buy into Medicare and a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, but he opposes universal background checks for gun buyers. And like 73 percent of voters in his district, he voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016. It is a choice he now regrets.... NYT, July 17, 2018
I've been trying to post pieces on both sides of the Democratic Party divide. Go Left or Go center and even right - blue dog. The left says this is Hillary territory and a loser. In West Virginia districts like this the idea of going left may be a sure loser. But when you are bringing back unions you are framing a left argument in terms people can understand - where left and right working class can unite. I was immediately caught by the opening:
The woman in the Grateful Dead T-shirt approached the man in combat boots with the military haircut.
“Are you … ?” she asked hesitantly.
“Ojeda,” he confirmed.
“Thank you!” the woman gushed. “I’m a teacher.”
Richard Ojeda, who became the political face of a statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia, posed for a selfie with the woman, Jennifer Renne, who teaches middle-school math.

An outspoken populist, Mr. Ojeda is running for Congress on a wave of labor activism thanks to voters like Ms. Renne, and he is doing surprisingly well as a Democrat in a district that President Trump won by nearly 50 points. Some Democrats see in him a model for how they can win in Middle American places where their party used to prevail, but has been decimated in the Trump era.
Ojeda would be anathema to many on the left, but the left has been overjoyed at the West Virginia teacher movement, so I see him as part of a unifying factor between left and center and even right -- he and many of the red state teachers did vote for Trump. If we see a resurgence of the Dem Party in areas where they were turned to waste, even if it is not left, is that a bad thing? Some on the left think it is but I will get to that another time.

Imagine Ojeda and Ocasio-Cortez in Congress together. I bet that would work.

Can a Pro-Coal Democrat in West Virginia Carve a Path for His Party?

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Richard Ojeda, a Democrat running for Congress, campaigned in Logan, W.Va., in early July. He has built support in a deep red coal-country district by riding a wave of labor activism sparked by a successful statewide teachers’ strike.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times


  • KENOVA, W.Va. — The woman in the Grateful Dead T-shirt approached the man in combat boots with the military haircut.
    “Are you … ?” she asked hesitantly.
    “Ojeda,” he confirmed.
    “Thank you!” the woman gushed. “I’m a teacher.”
    Richard Ojeda, who became the political face of a statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia, posed for a selfie with the woman, Jennifer Renne, who teaches middle-school math.

    An outspoken populist, Mr. Ojeda is running for Congress on a wave of labor activism thanks to voters like Ms. Renne, and he is doing surprisingly well as a Democrat in a district that President Trump won by nearly 50 points. Some Democrats see in him a model for how they can win in Middle American places where their party used to prevail, but has been decimated in the Trump era.
    Image
    Mr. Ojeda’s brand of populism appears to resonate with voters in communities like Logan, W.Va., that have been hard-hit by the long decline in coal mining and the rise in opiate addiction.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times
    “He’s reawakening sleeping giants — the teachers’ union and other labor groups, the real base of the Democratic Party that has been slumbering during these strongly pro-Trump years,” said Nick Rahall, a former Democratic House member from West Virginia who lost his seat to a Republican in 2014.
    Mr. Ojeda’s encounter with Ms. Renne, 44, took place in the smoky, windowless bar of an American Legion post — hardly a bastion of progressivism, but a natural place to find Mr. Ojeda, a former Army paratrooper.
    “You can only kick a dog so long before he rips you apart,” he told her. When they parted, he offered his usual signoff: “Airborne.”
    Around the country, Democrats seeking a path to a House majority in the midterm elections are focused almost exclusively on flipping seats in suburban districts, which are rich with college educated, racially diverse voters.
    Mr. Ojeda spoke with Jennifer Renne, 44, a middle-school teacher who recognized him at an American Legion hall in Kenova, W.Va. Mr. Ojeda gained visibility across the state by speaking out for striking teachers.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times
    West Virginia’s Third District, a portion of which Mr. Ojeda, 47, represents in the State Senate, is none of those things. A U-shaped swath in the southernmost and poorest part of the state, the district is 94 percent white. Fewer than one in four adults has a college degree. About one-third of families with children in the district live in poverty, according to census statistics.
    Still, a recent Monmouth poll found that Mr. Ojeda had a nominal lead over his Republican opponent, Carol Miller, a member of the State House of Delegates.
    “What I like about Ojeda is he plays offense,” said Representative Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who challenged Representative Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic leadership in the House after the defeat of Hillary Clinton, when he argued that the party must appeal again to white working-class voters. Mr. Ryan plans to campaign with Mr. Ojeda. “A lot of us are really sick of being on defense,” he said.
    Whether Mr. Ojeda is a template for Democrats in other states or a charismatic figure whose appeal is unique to West Virginia is an open question. The enthusiasm of one supporter, Betty Thompson, 72, a substitute teacher from Lincoln County, transcended partisan labels. “Is he a Democrat or a Republican?” Ms. Thompson asked, uncertain of the answer. “I’d vote for him no matter what.”
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    Mr. Ojeda says he is pro-coal, the mainstay of West Virginia’s economy for decades, though he is sharply critical of the way mining companies have operated in the state. Coal trains are a familiar sight in his district.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times
    Mr. Ojeda’s apparent surge has prompted comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the populist Democrat from the Bronx who knocked off a senior member of the House leadership in a primary. But Mr. Ojeda is not a leftist candidate: he does not want to abolish ICE or provide Medicare for all. He is pro-coal, while denouncing how coal companies stripped the state’s resources and left none of the wealth behind. He supports a public option to buy into Medicare and a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants, but he opposes universal background checks for gun buyers.

    And like 73 percent of voters in his district, he voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016. It is a choice he now regrets.
    He called the Trump presidency a “train wreck,” including the way that Mr. Trump, who met last week with NATO members, has “villainized our allies.”
    “He said, ‘I’m going to take all them jobs from overseas and bring them to America,’” Mr. Ojeda said. “He hasn’t brought them to West Virginia. We still struggle on everything.”
    Image
    Mr. Ojeda spoke to Jim Preston, right, outside the American Legion hall in Kenova. After serving in the Army for 25 years, Mr. Ojeda brought a gung-ho style to teaching and then politics.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times
    Mr. Ojeda’s paternal grandfather was a Mexican migrant who came to southern West Virginia to work as a miner. (The family pronounces its surname oh-JEH-da, not oh-HEE-da.) When Mr. Ojeda graduated from high school, he said he had just three options: “Dig coal, sell dope or join the Army.”
    After retiring 25 years later as a major, he returned to his native Logan County, only to find people there worse off than when he left, because of coal’s decline and the growing opioid crisis.
    After the Army and before entering politics, he taught high school, and recalled seeing cafeteria workers bringing out trays of extra food on one of his first days on the job. “I watched girls climb over tables to grab fistfuls of corn dogs,” he said. “I was floored. What did I just see? I realized they were sticking them in their purse because that was food for later.”

    Even more than for his politics, Mr. Ojeda is known for his big personality, with a gung-ho idea of leadership and a rousing speaking style. He is George Patton with an Appalachian twang and minus the profanity.
    Image
    Mr. Ojeda’s caustic view of corporate influence in politics was evident on the wall of his campaign office in Logan.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times
    “I’ve got 13 names on my back of brothers that did not come home,” he told a gathering of teachers and other union members, referring to some of his many tattoos. “They did not die so we could come home and find children struggling, people dying of the opioid crisis and companies and groups greasing people’s pockets.”
    For all his momentum, though, most nonpartisan analysts still rate Ms. Miller, 67, as the favorite in the race. She has ties to the state’s business community, including her husband’s family auto dealerships, and her personal wealth could let her drown out Mr. Ojeda on television in the homestretch of the campaign.
    Ms. Miller has lent her campaign $215,000, but Mr. Ojeda managed to out-raise her in the latest reporting period, collecting $300,000 in contributions to her $279,000.
    Mr. Ojeda’s greatest advantage may be simply that there are teachers or relatives of teachers everywhere.
    Image
    A supporter of Mr. Ojeda rode past booths at a festival in Logan carrying a campaign sign. Some voters say the candidate’s appeal transcends party labels.CreditAndrew Spear for The New York Times

    The school walkout that erupted over nine days in late winter, when striking educators and support personnel flooded the Capitol and the Republican governor and Legislature capitulated, has scrambled assumptions about politics in West Virginia. A longtime state senator who had accused strikers of holding children “hostage” was defeated in a Republican primary in May by a rival who pulled in union donations.
    Jane Baumgardner, a retiree in Huntington, said she was uncertain about either candidate in the Third District race until she remembered that her daughter, a school counselor, had told her she loved Mr. Ojeda. Ms. Baumgardner said she would vote for him as well.
    Huntington, the state’s second-largest city, is Ms. Miller’s home. On a recent Friday, Marjorie and Clarence Bailey, both 73, were strolling in Ritter Park, an affluent neighborhood of the city. Both support Ms. Miller.
    Ms. Bailey said she opposed the 5 percent pay raise the teachers won by striking. “I think they get enough time off as it is, and they shouldn’t complain if they get lower money,” she said.
    Her husband, retired from a mine supply company, called an effort by Ms. Miller to make the Bible the state book “a tremendous thing.”
    At Pullman Square, an upscale retail development on the Ohio River, Joe George, a financial adviser, said he was undecided.
    “I like both of them,” he said. “One has a local flavor and is well established in the community. The other I also like, because of his frankness and his ability to communicate with the teachers.”
    Mr. George is a Republican, but in his view, Mr. Ojeda has a good chance to win. “He took the fight to the legislators, and the teachers got a well-deserved raise,” he said. “He seems to be the champion of the people right now.”
    Correction: 
    Because of a poor-quality audio recording, an earlier version of this article misquoted a teacher, Randy Snyder, about his voting intentions. Mr. Snyder said, “I probably wouldn’t vote for” Carol Miller, the Republican in the race, not that he “probably would.”
    A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Flip Coal Country? Ask the Democrat in Combat Boots.
     

    2 comments:

    1. Socialism got thumped last night. Every candidate endorsed by Bernie/Cortez lost.

      ReplyDelete
    2. Really, fake news man?

      Detroit: Rashida Tlaib Just Won An Election That’ll Likely Make Her The First Muslim Woman In Congress

      Tlaib raised more money than her Democratic competitors, and won the endorsement of the Detroit Free Press. She was also backed by a host of organizations on the left, including the Sanders-aligned Our Revolution and Greater Detroit Democratic Socialists of America, which identifies Tlaib as a member.


      https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hannahallam/rashida-tlaib-michigan-election-muslim-congress

      ReplyDelete

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