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Pushkin, Walker elected to lead West Virginia Democratic Party

Delegate Mike Pushkin, left, and Delegate Danielle Walker were chosen as chairman and vice chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. (Photos courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON – The day before the state celebrates Juneteenth marking the end of slavery, members of the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee elected two state lawmakers, a Jewish chair and a black vice chair, to lead the party into the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Committee members met in Bridgeport Saturday for their summer meeting and elected Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, as chairman of the state Democratic Party. They also elected Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, as vice chair. The meeting was live-streamed on YouTube.

Pushkin, a musician and taxi driver in Charleston, has served in the House of Delegates since 2015. He is the lone Jewish member of the House and he has been an active organizer in the party even prior to his election to the Legislature.

In his nomination speech, Pushkin said he would fight to change the image of the Democratic Party in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats in voter registration and where Republicans control a supermajority of the Legislature, all of the Board of Public Works and all congressional seats except the seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“I’m tired of hearing that the Democratic Party doesn’t represent West Virginia values because we’re the party that doesn’t leave anybody behind,” Pushkin said. “”We’ve got to get our message out and get our message to the people. We’re the party of West Virginia values. We’re only going to be able to do that if we work together.”

“We’re not the party that wants to take public funds out of our schools and put them into private corporate schools to line the pockets of out-of-state interests,” Pushkin continued. “We’re not the party that wants to kick someone off of their health insurance so they can’t see a doctor when they’re sick. We’re not the party that repealed prevailing wage. We’re not the party that made us a right-to-work state. And we’re not the party that wants to roll back the hands of time and progress on civil rights.”

Pushkin received 67 votes over former House of Delegates majority leader Rick Staton, who received 21 votes and two committee members abstained. Staton served in the House from 1989 to 2006. He served in the administration of former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin as a deputy cabinet secretary for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and as director of the Division of Justice and Community Services.

“We will tell voters who we are and who we represent: working families, young people trying to get through school and pay off their debts, educators and support personnel, union workers the middle class and those striving to get there,” Staton said in his nomination speech. “Join me on the journey not just by electing me as chair, but by committing to taking our message to voters. When Democrats succeed, West Virginia succeeds.”

Pushkin succeeds Belinda Biafore as party chair. Biafore declined to seek another four-year term as leader of the state’s Democrats. Biafore became state party chairwoman after Larry Puccio, the former chief of staff to Gov. Joe Manchin, lobbyist and political operative, stepped down in 2015. She was elected to the position in 2016.

“It’s not an easy job,” Biafore said before announcing the vote totals for chair. “It’s a lot of hard work, volunteer effort and no pay. I’m asking each and every one of you to stand united behind the chair and his team and do everything you can to help make their life easier.”

Walker was unopposed for the vice chair position Saturday, with party members approving her nomination by acclamation. Walker was first elected to the House in 2018 and is currently the only black woman in the West Virginia Legislature. She is a direct care worker and a community organizer in the Morgantown area.

“We might be in the super minority of both houses, but we are the majority to our neighbors, because presentation without presence is powerless and we are empowered Democrats of West Virginia,” Walker said. “We’re not going to talk about it; we’re going to be about it. We’re not going to talk the talk; we’re going to walk the walk. When one of our friends are lagging behind, we’re going to be sure to give them a hand up, because there will be no person left behind under the new leadership of the West Virginia Democratic Party.”

Pushkin and Walker will serve for four years before being up for re-election in 2026.

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