EDITORIAL: Could Ojeda be West Virginia’s next U.S. congressman?


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West Virginia State Senator Richard Ojeda has only held public office for a little over a year, but in his short term has certainly made himself heard loud and clear. One of his major accomplishments during his time in the Senate is his role in sponsoring the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, a bill making medical marijuana legal in the state, which was signed into law on April 19, 2017.

Having spent 25 years in the military, rising through the ranks and achieving the rank of major, he ran for this same congressional seat in 2014, losing to incumbent Democratic representative Nick Rahall, who was ultimately beat by Republican Evan Jenkins. Despite his loss in the 2014 primaries, Ojeda is back for round two, and it seems this may be his year. In a state that voted for Donald Trump in an overwhelming majority, Ojeda may be the only Democrat with a chance.

Ojeda became something of a champion in the recent West Virginia teacher work stoppage, supporting teachers and other public employees from the beginning, and vehemently defending them within the majority Republican state Senate. Because of his role in this historic movement, the rough and rowdy state senator has gained attention on the national stage.

“Because here is Ojeda,” writes POLITICO Magazine’s Craig Hudson, “a pro-labor, twang-talking, plainspoken populist, scrambling the state’s recent rightward shift by harkening back to a deeper, more radical vein of its rich political history.”

Hudson alludes to the West Virginia miner strikes in the early 20th century, calling teachers the new miners, due to the fact that teachers make up the largest union in the state.

As Hudson made his way through the crowd of teachers, some asking for selfies and autographs, former MSNBC host Krystal Ball, the current leader of the PAC the People’s House Project, announced his future congressional win with great confidence.

“She said this with a certainty that startled me,” Hudson writes. “I had to lean in to make out her words. ‘And it’s going to be an instant national story! And Richard is going to be an instant national figure and face of the Democrats!’”

While Ojeda’s popularity sky-rocketed during the West Virginia teacher walk-out, he still must face a large number of political opponents, with the third district having the most candidates out of all three West Virginia districts.

It seems clear that Ojeda will win the primary, but then he will go up against the state’s Republican candidate in the general election, with Republicans Carol Miller, current member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, and Conrad Lucas, the state’s GOP chair.

When it comes to money, Ojeda falls far behind, having raised about $35,000 as of Dec. 31. Compared to Miller’s $288,000, it would seem Ojeda does not stand a chance, but from what we’ve seen in the public, it is precisely that non-political behavior of him that has drawn people to him.

“I’m real,” Ojeda told POLITICO. “I’m not polished. I’m sorry, but if you want a daggone, typical polished politician, vote for Conrad Lucas. But people are tired of that bullshit. People are tired of the same ol’ garbage. They want people that are willing to speak out, speak up, be open and honest with them.”

Maybe Richard Ojeda really is exactly what West Virginia needs.

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