West Virginia is at the top of the list for national issues, democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders said Tuesday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena on a campaign stop as primary voting unfolded in five states.
“When I talk about the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality, West Virginia is almost at the top of that list,” Sanders said. “From 1979 to 2012, the top one percent of the people in West Virginia saw their income go up by more than 60 percent on average, while the bottom 90 percent saw their income go down.”
Sanders addressed an estimated crowd of 6,400. The line for the first presidential visit to the state this campaign season wrapped around the Big Sandy Superstore Arena from the front door, along Eighth Street and Veterans Memorial Boulevard and eventually reached the Third Avenue side of Bob Evans on Sixth Street.
The crowd’s chants of “We are… feeling the Bern” were met with Sanders’ opening statement, “Unlike football or basketball, politics is not a spectator sport.”
Sanders said climate change needs to be addressed and the country needs to shift its energy system away from fossil fuels, but those working in West Virginia’s largest industry sector should be taken into account.
“We have a moral obligation to protect those workers in the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders said. “We cannot leave those people in the coal industry, in the oil industry, in the gas industry high and dry, and that is why we have the moral obligation to make certain that those people who may lose their jobs get new jobs.”
Sanders criticized media coverage of United States trade policies, saying it was not a “sexy” issue and that the policies are partially responsible for the lack of job opportunity in America. Sanders also criticized secretary Hillary Clinton for supporting these policies.
“As a result of these terrible trade policies, we have lost millions of decent paying jobs,” Sanders said. “Our message to corporate America is, you want us to buy the products you make, make these damn products here in West Virginia.”
Sanders said 54 percent of working age population has a job in West Virginia, attributing poverty to a higher mortality rate.
“What being poor is about in America is you die at a significantly lower age than people who have money,” Sanders said. “In McDowell County, 77 percent of children under 18 are living in poverty in the United States of America. In McDowell County, men can only expect to live to the age of 63.”
Sanders said in Fairfax County, Virginia, men live on average of 82 years of age and women are expected to live to 85, while in McDowell County, women expect to live to 73.
“I’m not using just West Virginia statistics because I’m here, this is a national issue.”
Sanders won the Rhode Island primary Tuesday night with 55 percent of the vote, while Clinton took 43.3 percent of the vote. Clinton won primaries in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut.
Megan Osborne can be contacted at [email protected]
UPDATE: This story previously included a statement by Sanders that Fairfax County, Virginia is six miles from McDowell County, West Virginia. While the quote from Sanders was accurate, Fairfax County is 355 miles from McDowell County.