The Parthenon

Filed under OPINION

Editorial: W.Va. should welcome, not drive away, politicians trying to help our state

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A Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., town hall scheduled for Monday at the Welch National Guard armory in McDowell County was unexpectedly cancelled Friday, with no immediate explanation. The event was to be moderated by MSNBC host Chris Hayes, with “hundreds of people in the area” having already signed up to attend, according to the senator.

Sanders was set to discuss poverty in the county, the poorest in West Virginia, with the highest overdose rate in the state and the lowest life expectancy in the nation at only 64 years. McDowell County went overwhelmingly red in the 2016 election, with President Donald Trump clinching 74.1 percent of the vote. However, in the primary elections, Sanders won the county with 55.2 percent, according to The Washington Post.

Presumably, Sanders was visiting the county to understand why his message resonated with the county’s constituents in a manner that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s failed to do in the general election six months later.

The Vermont senator made his frustrations with the cancellation clear in a Sunday Facebook post, in which he refused to be prevented from speaking about a vital issue affecting a particularly vulnerable area of the state and nation. Sanders attached a graphic containing additional statistics about the county, where only five percent of adults have a college education and over half of the residents lived in poverty from 2009 to 2013.

But according to the West Virginia National Guard, the event would have violated the armory’s policy regarding political events.

“U.S. Department of Defense policy does not permit the use of military facilities for political and election events and specifically includes town hall meetings as an example of such activities. The West Virginia State Armory Board has a similar policy,” they said in a statement.

While this is understandable, Sanders said that “the arrangements had been agreed to several weeks before,” prompting questions about why state officials decided to enforce this policy a mere two days before Sanders’ town hall. Had notice been given, the senator could have had the opportunity to arrange the event at a different location.

Overall, when a senator who has gained national attention wants to visit our state to find viable solutions for our biggest problems, we should welcome their help with open arms rather than drive them away. Sanders is no longer campaigning and it is not Sanders’ job to represent our state’s interests. Still, he has demonstrated that he recognizes the plights of West Virginia’s most impoverished counties and has sought to listen to our people to find the right solutions for our state to move forward.

This was largely demonstrated during Sanders’ presentation and book tour in Charleston Sunday, where he discussed drugs, health and environmental issues pertinent to the state. Sanders also encouraged West Virginians to get involved, saying “democracy is not a spectator sport.”

“I know in West Virginia you all love your football and basketball and those are spectator sports,” Sanders said. “But democracy is something everyone should participate in.”

A McDowell visit by Sanders is seemingly still in the cards. In both his Sunday Facebook post and Charleston presentation, the senator promised that West Virginia had not seen the last of him. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Sanders is actively searching for a new building to hold the event, even if MSNBC can’t attend.

“If they don’t allow us to use the local armory, we’ll find another building,” Sanders wrote. “If we can’t find another building, we’ll hold the meeting out in the streets. That town meeting will be held. Poverty in America will be discussed. Solutions will be found.”

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