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One of West Virginia’s two U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot this year as the GOP fights nationally to retain its majority in Washington, D.C. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has held this office since 2015 and is the first woman from West Virginia to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Facing her is Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin who has never held a political office but believes her ideas and experiences are exactly what the state needs in Congress.
Capito grew up in public service. Her father, Arch Moore Jr., was both a U.S. congressman and a governor of West Virginia. Capito said she learned from a very young age what it meant to be a public servant. But it wasn’t until she became a parent that she said she realized just how much she wanted to help people.
“I just felt like as a relatively young mother in West Virginia, I wanted to try to do that for the next generations of West Virginians – to participate, to be a part of the solutions instead of just carping about what was wrong and how I could have done it better,” Capito said. “Well, I was ready to try it myself.”
There are several issues Capito feels strongly about this year, but she said one of her top priorities is expanding broadband in rural areas. She said having dependable internet access is key to many of the challenges in West Virginia, especially right now.
“Now we see in light of COVID how important this issue is for healthcare, for education, for economic development,” she said. “And really, to keep our young people in West Virginia, it’s exceedingly important as well.”
Capito said she started the rural broadband caucus in the U.S. Senate and works across the aisle on the issue, including with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, from Minissota. If reelected, Capito said, she would continue to fight for broadband growth and access in the state.
Capito said the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic response has been a mixed bag. She thinks Trump should have been stronger on mask-wearing and provided clearer communication to keep people safe.
“If I had to do it over again, for him, I would have been much more concise, clear to the American people of what the dangers are, how you can be effective in fighting the dangers and be very honest with where we are at any given time,” she said.
Other important issues to Capito are healthcare access like telehealth and tackling the opioid epidemic by providing federal dollars to support those in recovery. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease is also an issue Capito said is close to her heart. She supports job creation and supports the coal and natural gas industries.
Capito said she thinks creating more jobs in West Virginia like manufacturing PPE, or personal protective equipment, could be great economic drivers for the state. She also said supporting small business growth is key to a healthy West Virginia.
“I think the small business aspects of West Virginia are critically important,” she said. “And so, to retain our jobs, to keep our creativity, we’ve got to find a way to keep our small businesses’ heads above water.”
All-in-all, Capito is hoping West Virginians will reelect her based on her dedication to the state and her accomplishments while in the Senate. Capito has supported efforts in providing federal funding to the state to support broadband expansion, substance use treatment, and infrastructure needs. She is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
But facing Capito in November is Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin who thinks that Capito has done little to understand the real challenges faced by West Virginians.
“If you would have told me 15 years ago that I’d be the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate, I probably laughed at you,” Swearengin said. “I just got tired of begging and going on deaf ears, and I know a lot of West Virginia feels the same way. I’m not going for personal gain, it’s about survival for West Virginians.”
Swearengin’s overall message is West Virginia needs representation in Washington, D.C. from someone who knows first hand what it was like to have financial hardships or who knows what it’s like to live without clean water.
“Our water came out of an abandoned coal mine, and it was orange with a blue and purple film,” she said. “And we drank it. We bathed in it. We cooked with it, and I didn’t know until my stepdad got laid off in the coal mines that I wasn’t a redhead until I had access to clean water, and I found out I was a brunette.”
Swearengin was born in Mullins, West Virginia. She said she grew up in poverty and is the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners. Her grandfather passed away from black lung disease. Her father also had black lung disease, and he died of cancer.
Swearengin has never held a political office, but this isn’t the first time she’s been on the ballot for a seat in the U.S. Senate. She lost to Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin in the 2018 primary election. Now, she’s trying again, this time, as the Democratic nominee.
Swearengin describes Capito as “out of touch” and not serving West Virginians’ needs.
“Everybody doesn’t have to agree on everything, but their sole purpose should be serving the people that put them there, and that’s the people in the United States,” she said. “In West Virginia, we have been underserved, and it’s important to me that West Virginians have a seat at the table in Washington, DC.”
Swearengin said West Virginia has been abused for its resources and that West Virginians have had to pay the price, both in health and money.
She stands on issues like expanding broadband access but making it a public utility. She is supportive of the legalization and taxation of marijuana. She also thinks West Virginia needs to diversify its economy and support new ideas in areas like geothermal energy, hydro power, roads, schools, and adequate water and sewer systems.
“The possibilities for West Virginia are endless,” she said. “We can’t put our eggs in one basket anymore, and we definitely can’t put all of our eggs in the politicians that are visionaries for their pocketbooks and visionaries for our demise.”
Early voting starts on Oct. 21 and runs until Oct. 31.
The deadline for absentee ballots is Oct. 28. Election Day is Nov. 3.