By: Erika Kolenich, Candidate for Governor of West Virginia Posted: March 04, 2020 | 05:40PM EST
Politics has always been a messy business but there used to be a sense of civility. Even if your candidate was not elected, you respected the winner and wished them well. Elected officials, regardless of their party affiliation, worked together to find solutions that were in the best interest of the people. That doesn’t happen anymore. Not only does it not happen but things have become hostile and tribal. As an elected official, if you don’t vote the way your political party wants you to, the party isolates you and kicks you out. Friends and family disown one another if they have different political opinions. Working together is a thing of the past and thus there is no progress. When election time comes, most voters decide which candidate they hate the most and then vote for the other guy. As I have traveled the State, I have had this conversation with hundreds of West Virginians and everyone seems to agree that we are stuck in an “us versus them” mentality.
In order to break out of this stifling political quandary, there has to be a first step. The first step is voting for someone you believe in. Someone, that regardless of political affiliation, you believe wants to do best for West Virginia - not just their best for the rich or their best for business or their best for the poor, but rather their best for everyone. Someone who can build bridges and bring us all together. Someone who transcends Republican or Democrat. I encourage you to look at all candidates you have the opportunity to vote for and ask yourself if they want to bring people together or if they want to continue to perpetuate the divide. If wanting to give people a real choice for change as opposed to another swing of the Republican/Democrat pendulum is crazy, then yes I am crazy.
The odds are certainly against me. Let’s start with the most obvious, I am not a man. There have certainly been several gentlemen on the campaign trail who have had no qualms in telling me that they do not vote for women. Another very nice man told me that he was trying to convince his friends that they could vote for me because “women are good at keeping the house in order so they can probably keep the State in order.” This bias is alive and well in West Virginia. Secondly, I am not wealthy. Sure, I make a decent living, but by no means do I have Jim Justice money. Most people in this state will vote for someone whose name they have heard but will have no idea what the candidate’s campaign is about. Name recognition comes from advertising. Advertising comes from money. Lastly, I am not running on a major party ticket. Several voters will walk into the ballot box and vote for all the candidates from one party. They will do little to nothing to vote for the best person for the job. Yes, the odds are stacked against me. However, just because the odds are stacked against me, doesn’t mean it is impossible. I have always loved a challenge. History would not have nearly as many pivotal moments if everyone stopped when the odds were against them.
I do not want to be elected to office as a Democrat or Republican. I certainly recognize that political parties don’t have much of a definition. The Democrats supported slavery and now talk about reparations. Our current Governor and one of his opponents have both been members of the opposite party with which they now identify. Our currently Republican President used to be a Democrat. One of the Democratic presidential candidates was a Republican mayor. Apparently party identification is fluid. What is not fluid is the desire of the majority of politicians to be in power and use whatever identity works at the time to gain that power. I don’t want to be Governor to be Governor or have power. I want to be Governor to help our State and our citizens and to offer solutions to our problems that no one else is. I will not change my identity to trick people. I will always put West Virginia people before politics.
Throughout the course of the next several months, find out about your candidates. Will they make a difference or will they just perpetuate the pendulum swing? Are they working to unite people or divide people? Are they honest with you about who they are and why they are running? I believe the citizens of this state will one day recognize the change that has to come. They will recognize that in order to make progress they have to vote for someone they believe in. Whether that is this year, next year, or sometime thereafter, I cannot say. I can only say that whenever you are ready to think outside the box - when you are ready for real change, I will be here to help.