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Parkersburg residents spotlight candidates with MOV Public Forum

PARKERSBURG — With candidates in the 2020 primary unable to interact with voters at events or canvass door to door because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parkersburg residents Jennifer Bryant and Kim Van Rijn are trying to fill the void.

Both women regularly attend Parkersburg City Council meetings, usually with one or the other streaming the meeting live on the Fairness for Parkersburg Facebook page, established three years ago to advocate for passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Concerned that candidates, particularly those challenging incumbents, wouldn’t be able to provide voters with the information they need to make the best decision, Van Rijn and Bryant decided to utilize social media again.

“We wanted voters to be able to have a clear idea of who the candidates were,” Bryant said.

Together they created the MOV Public Forum on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, coming soon, its own website to share Zoom interviews with candidates running for Parkersburg City Council and mayor. After posting videos featuring most candidates in those races, they turned their attention to county and even state races.

While both have followed city government closely for years, they had to learn about other positions as they prepared questions for candidates running for county commission, board of education and attorney general.

“I feel like I’ve learned so much more about what the people in government do,” Van Rijn said. “It’s been interesting going back to school and learning civics.”

They started out by sending emails to candidates based on filings posted by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. Everyone who had a phone number listed got a follow-up call as well, Van Rijn said.

“For the candidate that only had a snail mail address, I hand-wrote a card,” Bryant said. “And he showed up on my doorstep.”

While Bryant and Van Rijn may have their preferences in certain races, they said they wanted to go into the interviews without an agenda.

“The Republicans and Democrats get the same questions,” Van Rijn said.

Candidates are sent the questions an hour before the scheduled interview, so they aren’t coming in cold but aren’t overly prepared or rehearsed either.

“These are very unpolished, ‘real'” interviews, Bryant said.

“We’ve made it a policy not to upload videos until all of the candidates for a particular office are completed,” she said, noting that way, one candidate won’t be responding to another’s remarks.

When Bryant mentioned the effort during a Zoom meeting for a local organization, a candidate for statewide office who was participating volunteered to be interviewed as well. From there, Bryant and Va Rijn reached out to other candidates for state office.

This week, they had interviews planned with nine of the 12 people running for governor.

“I definitely feel like we will be the most informed of our voting lives,” Bryant said.

Regardless of how the pandemic affects campaigning going forward, they plan to continue the MOV Public Forum into the fall.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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