Reporter’s Notebook: The final countdown
Tuesday is the big day. If you haven’t voted early, Tuesday is Election Day. I really need you to vote, because my poor mailbox just can’t handle the load of mailers.
In one day, my wife and I received over 12 pieces of campaign mail for most congressional, statewide, legislative and even city and county elections. Almost every video I watch on YouTube has a 10-second ad for various candidates. I’m getting banner ads on Facebook.
From the standpoint of a newspaperman, I love it as I know it’s got to be helping the bottom line. But I can also relate to the average Joe getting bombarded with pleas for votes. Based on the early voting turnout numbers I’ve seen, I don’t think candidates have to worry about turnout.
I can’t speak for a blue wave or a red wave. It’s hard to discern that from the numbers. Always remember, West Virginia might be a conservative state, but its party registration is still majority Democratic. Democrats are always going to outnumber Republicans for the foreseeable future when it comes to voting, but that doesn’t mean all those registered Democrats are voting for Democratic candidates or the Democratic positions on ballot issues.
I also can’t speak for the teacher turnout. I know the cries of “remember in November” and “55 strong” have been heard this election cycle. I wouldn’t count on a solid union vote tomorrow.
Since 2014, the Republican majority in the legislature has been able to pass Right to Work, eliminate state prevailing wage, and other worker reforms. In contrast, the unions have attempted to defeat Republican legislative candidates by using Political Action Committees with names like “West Virginia Family Values.” This year the union PAC is called “Patriots for Liberty,” but the goal is the same: to confuse voters into voting against Republicans. It didn’t work in 2016 and I doubt it will work this time.
As for teachers, don’t necessarily expect them to vote as a block. It’s been my experience that once you get a teacher in a voting booth away from the peer pressure from union leaders and their fellow teachers, they pretty much vote however they want.
The last time I can think of teachers saying they would vote as a block was 2010 against then-state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha. He had pushed a plan for charter schools, which upset the Kanawha County teachers’ unions. During the Democratic primary they put up former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, and everyone thought Wells would lose.
He didn’t. He won by a nine-point margin, 50 percent to 41 percent. Everyone thought the teachers would vote as a block against Wells. They didn’t. They won’t tomorrow either.
That’s not to say that Republicans get off the hook for how they handled the teachers’ strike back in February. They’re right to say they passed the raises, and I think they played it right waiting for an improved revenue estimate before agreeing to those raises, but that doesn’t mean the pressure put on lawmakers by thousands of teachers didn’t help turn the tide either. If I was a Republican candidate, I wouldn’t strictly take credit for it, even if it couldn’t happen without Republican votes.
But Gov. Justice did a smart play by taking the teachers’ two main issues — improved pay and reforms to the Public Employee Insurance Agency — off the table for the remainder of the election. Agreeing to put $100 million toward PEIA stabilization (in a PEIA flush with money, mitigating the need for major premium increases) and pushing for an additional 5 percent pay raise for public employees and school staff took the wind out of these issues in the short term.
It probably doesn’t help that some teachers feel like political pawns right now. Some have enthusiastically embraced the campaigns of Democrat Richard Ojeda for 3rd Congressional District and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, and both candidates have made teachers a part of their commercials. Why, I don’t know. Outside of reforms to the U.S. Department of Education there is little either candidate can do at the federal level for the teacher in a classroom in Welch.
Now, this doesn’t mean that teachers at the local level won’t influence the election. I expect several house members — maybe even one or two state senators — to lose some elections. I’m not a prognosticator and won’t even begin to speculate on who will win or lose. But looking at the big picture I expect the house and senate to stay in Republican hands.
As for any big flips in congressional representation in West Virginia, I wouldn’t hold your breath for that either. The congressional election will come down to who voters think will best support President Trump. While some voters will look at Manchin with a skeptical eye, the question will be whether there is enough skepticism to warrant sweeping him out for state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. It’s going to be a razor-thin win, or a 10-point victory for one or the other.
As for 3rd Congressional District candidate Richard Ojeda, a Democrat state senator from Logan County, he reminds me of Chauncey Gardiner, Peter Sellers’ character in the 1979 movie “Being There.” The movie is about a man, a gardener, whose advice on gardening is taken as metaphorical advice on how to fix the national economy. By the end of the movie, he is even being considered as a candidate for president.
Ojeda is being taken far too seriously, especially by national news outlets and outside political groups. Spend some time in Logan County and ask people about Ojeda and you’ll walk away with a different perception. Carol Miller, however, is also frustrating as she has talked to very few news outlets and expresses very few views.
I can only find eight pieces of legislation she was the lead sponsor of in 2018, and she was the majority whip. She’s counting on being widely pro-Trump, as well as being from one of the largest population centers in the district to carry her through tomorrow. That and Ojeda’s eccentricities might be enough to push voters her way. We’ll see.
Either way, good luck to everyone tomorrow. Look for full election coverage in this paper online Tuesday and in your morning paper Wednesday.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at email@example.com.