After Trump election, WV government is less diverse
The 2016 election cycle has finally ended and as the tide of glossy mailers, media ads and robocalls recedes, the results leave behind a crop of elected officials in West Virginia who are less diverse based upon ethnicity and gender than those serving until the end of the year.
While many observers were left scratching their heads after Republican Donald Trump’s victory in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it was a foregone conclusion that he would handily carry West Virginia. Trump received approximately 69% of the vote in the state.
Donald Trump’s landslide state victory didn’t alter the partisan makeup of the West Virginia House of Delegates in any large way, but the number of women dropped by nearly 20% and the number of African Americans serving decreased by a third. Eastern Panhandle Delegate Paul Espinosa remains the only Latino member of the body.
The current class of WV House members features 18 women; that number will drop to 15 once the 2017 session begins. A combination of retirement and general election defeat contributed to the drop and was not offset by a sufficient number of victorious female candidates. Several races were quite close, including Kanawha County Delegate Nancy Guthrie’s who lost by only 13 votes.
According to the most recent United States Census figures, approximately 50.7% of West Virginia is populated by women, yet they will now hold only 15% of total seats in the lower chamber of the legislature.
The lack of representation for women in the state is a source of strong concern for many millennial West Virginians.
“As a young woman who grew up in Hedgesville (Berkeley County), I did not feel represented by my state legislature then and certainly do not now,” said Eileen Waggoner. “I have grown exponentially more concerned for the future of West Virginia since the recent election.”
Waggoner currently runs Boshemia, a website which “work[s] to share diverse stories and bold voices that challenge misconceptions and present new perspectives in our ever-evolving, undeniably gendered world.”
Her delegate district is represented by a woman, Saira Blair, but Waggoner believes many of Blair’s stances are out of sync with other young Eastern Panhandle residents. She argues the political climate in the state may be a contributing factor to the exodus of young people from West Virginia.
Not only did the number of women in the WV House take a hit but so, too, did the number serving statewide. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, one of two female members of the Board of Public Works, was defeated by one percentage point.
The second, WV Auditor Lisa Hopkins who was appointed to the position following the resignation of Glen Gainer, III, opted not to run for election. Hoping to take over the position was Democrat Mary Ann Claytor, who would have been the first woman elected to the position of WV Auditor and also the first African American to hold statewide elective office in West Virginia.
United States Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Supreme Court Justices Margaret Workman, Robin Jean Davis, and Beth Walker are now the only women serving in statewide office.
Claytor was the only African American nominee for statewide office in a cycle which saw the number of African Americans in the WV House decrease from three down to two. No African Americans currently sit in the WV Senate.
Claytor believes “the hatred for Hillary (Clinton) pulled us (Democrats) all down” at the statewide level. Further, she said she doesn’t believe the fact that she’s African American had any impact on her campaign, however she thinks some people declined to vote for her because of her gender.
One advance was made this cycle, with the number of women serving in the West Virginia Senate increasing from two to three. Eastern Panhandle Senator-Elect Patricia Rucker will join incumbent Senators Sue Cline and Donna Boley. Rucker is also the first Latina to serve in the West Virginia Senate.
While it took West Virginia until the late 1980s to elect a woman statewide, Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman, the state had some earlier bright spots. West Virginia was the first state to seat an African American woman in its House of Delegates and has regularly had female members of the same body since the early 1920s.
H. S. Leigh Koonce is a sixth-generation West Virginian. He writes from Jefferson County.