Ojeda to resign seat in West Virginia Senate next week
Running for U.S. president
CHARLESTON — Giving what’s likely to be his last floor speech in the West Virginia Legislature, a state senator who lost a race for House of Representatives and quickly filed for president will resign next week to focus on his national race.
State Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, addressed his fellow lawmakers Thursday in a floor speech imploring them to support the bills he has introduced.
As of Thursday, Ojeda has a total of 13 bills he introduced. Some of these include creating a new program to combat Black Lung in West Virginia coal miners, amendments to the state Medical Cannabis Act, allowing correctional officers to retire once they reach 25 years of service, and requiring registered lobbyists to purchase and wear body cameras.
Talking to reporters after the Senate’s morning floor session, Ojeda said it was important to introduce these bills to maintain promises to his constituents before leaving the Senate.
“If I wasn’t here, the black lung bill doesn’t go forward, the body cam bill doesn’t go forward, the retirement for the correctional officers doesn’t go forward,” Ojeda said. “I’ve been talking to these people for quite a while and this was a promise I made to them. If I wasn’t here, who was going to run those bills?”
Even though he won’t be a senator, serving on committees, or shepherding his bills across the March 9 finish line, Ojeda hopes that the people will put pressure on lawmakers to support his legislation in his absence.
“That’s why it’s important that the people pay attention to what goes on in this Capitol,” Ojeda said. “If they pay attention and they see the bills coming out, they can know. If you’re passionate about something, then you start fighting for it. You can’t wait for someone else to fight that battle, it has to be everyone at once.”
Ojeda won election to the Senate in 2016 when he beat former state Sen. Art Kirkendoll. He made national news when he was physically attacked during the campaign and put in the hospital. During his short tenure in the Senate, Ojeda was known for passionate speeches and his populist style. His fiery support for medical marijuana legalization and the February 2018 teachers’ strike brought him popularity.
Taking his new-found popularity to the campaign trail, Ojeda won the Democratic Party primary in May 2018 for the third district House of Representatives seat held at the time by former U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, who ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate and lost. Jenkins was later appointed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
In the general election, Ojeda faced former Del. Carol Miller, the House’s majority whip. During the campaign, President Donald Trump made multiple visits to stump for Republican candidates in West Virginia, including Miller. She beat Ojeda in November 2018, 56 percent to 44 percent. Miller carried every county in the third congressional district but two. Ojeda lost his home county of Logan but carried Boone and Fayette counties.
A week after the election loss, Ojeda filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for president — a field that already has nearly a dozen candidates slated to run, according to multiple outlets.
“I’m going to fight on a larger scale, that’s what I’m going to do,” Ojeda said. “I want to see people be able to enjoy life. West Virginia is one of the hardest places you can do that, but the same issues we have here we have all across this country. This is a fight that needs fought on the national level. I think I have the ability to fight that fight and have my voice heard.”
Ojeda said his last day in the Senate is Monday, Jan. 14, and he’ll resign sometime next week. The following day, Jan. 15, Ojeda will be in Iowa as he starts the long road of presidential campaigning.