As lawmakers prepare for the upcoming 2023 general session, they do so with a near historic imbalance of political party power.
The leaders of both state political parties went into detail on what brought them to this point, and their expectations for the future.
West Virginia Republican Party Chair Elgine McArdle said party dominance in both the general election and the state legislature – 88 to 12 in the House, 31 to 3 in the Senate – means the impact of this “supermajority’s” constituents will be clearly heard.
“I would hope that the conservative principles that have echoed through the state of West Virginia would continue to be put into law,” McArdle said. “I guess it’s just in conservative values on fiscal responsibility to carry through.”
Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, is the West Virginia Democratic Party Chair. He said Democrats have a lot of work before them to organize from the ground up. He attributed the election losses in part to branding, blaming concerns about inflation and economy on the national Democratic Party. He also said it was no coincidence the historic defeats came directly after redistricting.
“The maps were definitely drawn to favor the party in power, the Republicans. In certain districts that made it very difficult for us to win,” Pushkin said. “We found that our candidates, if you look at their numbers versus the modeling that we had, really did quite well and overperformed. But it just wasn’t enough to overcome the gerrymandering that was done by the Republican Party.”
McArdle said the fact that so many candidates won, but every amendment Republicans supported lost was not a matter of voter disconnect. She blamed the defeats on a lack of voter education and research.
“Individuals have to do their own research and look at why a particular amendment is being pushed. And not so much listen to media or rhetoric that is being promoted by an individual or individual groups,” McArdle said.
“There were a lot of people who didn’t test the vote at all, one way or the other, for or against the amendments, because they just simply didn’t know what they were about.”
Pushkin said suggesting a lack of voter education and research in the amendment losses was an insult to voters.
“They voted no, because they saw it as a power grab from the state legislature, power grabbing by the Republican Party,” Pushkin said. “I think people still believe in checks and balances, people still believe in separation of power, something our country was founded on.”
McArdle charged her party’s elected representatives with committing to their campaign rhetoric as responsibility.
“They should all remember the promises that they made during the election and keep those promises to the constituents that put them there,” McArdel said.
Pushkin said the democratic hope is to work with representatives in a bipartisan manner on populist policy, not politics.
“The state has a whole lot of serious problems, whether it’s 7,000 children in foster care, our high rate of infant mortality, a whole host of poor public health outcomes, improvement of our public schools, access to health care,” Pushkin said. “I would hope that’s where we placed the focus and not on whatever kind of hot button political issue that they’re going to use to gin up the base.”
The 2023 general legislative session begins January 11th, and runs for 60 days.