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Stephen Smith’s movement-based campaign has released the first of 32 bottom-up proposals to change the state. It includes a wealth tax.

by David Dayen for The American Prospect December 30, 2019

What’s the most important election of 2020? Which one will have implications that endure the farthest into the future? By the standards of most national media outlets, only the presidential race exists, so you might do the obvious thing and choose that one. But having seen it up close, I’m going to have to go with the gubernatorial election in West Virginia, which just might inaugurate a new kind of people-centered politics…

I’ve written previously about the campaign of Stephen Smith, a community organizer with no prior experience in elected office who has spent months building a movement called West Virginia Can’t Wait. He’s done 151 town halls with almost a year to go until the general election. Hundreds of volunteers in all 55 counties organized the town halls, buoyed by 39 separate constituency teams (Coal Miners Can’t Wait, Students Can’t Wait, People in Recovery Can’t Wait) that did the bulk of the organizing for the campaign. To date, 66 candidates have signed a pledge to join the Can’t Wait movement, running as a slate to support labor and reject corporate money.

The county and constituency teams initiated and recorded over 10,000 open-ended conversations with West Virginia voters over the summer, asking questions like “What’s concerning you right now?” and “What are you hoping for?” This rough translation of the public’s wants and needs would eventually become Smith’s platform. “We put out a broad set of policy principles, as most campaigns do,” Smith told me last week. “But we purposefully waited to put together a more detailed platform. We wanted to put out a document that had 10,000 fingerprints on it.”

Smith convened a writing team from the county and constituency groups, which distilled the 10,000 conversations into 32 separate platform planks. Constant feedback from organizers culminated in a one-day platform delegate convention, made up of representatives from all county and constituency teams who logged at least 55 conversations over the summer.  “It was one of the most fun days I’ve had in organizing,” Smith says. “We had the people in our movement who had done the most relational work in one room.”

The final “People’s Platform,” written and ratified by the movement and the bottom-up wishes of local residents, are being dribbled out weekly at the West Virginia Can’t Wait website. Thus far it includes a half-penny wealth tax on nonresidential property assets above $2 million, the first state-level non-real estate wealth tax proposal in the nation. Other plans released would bolster workers and small businesscombat discrimination and racism, and assist people with disabilities

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