New Deal for West Virginia
West Virginians have borne too much for too long, but our freedom will not be won with small ideas or half-measures. It’s time for a New Deal for West Virginia.
The Constitution of West Virginia was ratified in 1872. The authors of that document had come through hell and high water to reach statehood. Blood was spilled to break from Richmond, but we formed a new state, with Wheeling as our first capital.
In our state’s founding document is enshrined this motto: Mountaineers are Always Free.
Yet we are not free today.
The wealthy Good Old Boys Club has us up against a wall–and it’s not the first time. Right now they are telling us we must choose between our health and our bank accounts, that it’s got to be one or the other.
This is the same lie they told the coal miners in Matewan a century ago, the same lie they told educators and school service personnel who went on strike for their health care.
The choice between our health and our paycheck is a false one they invented.
In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can have our lives and our livelihoods, so long as we come together and refuse to be robbed any longer.
We have done it before, and we’ll do it again. Our freedom depends on it.
Each day, more of our freedom is robbed by poverty, addiction, and racism. It is robbed by coal executives who steal miner pensions and give themselves bonuses and golden parachutes. It is robbed by billionaires whose companies pay poverty wages to hardworking people, and expect taxpayers to take up the slack for them.
When we can’t quit a dangerous job because we’ll lose our health care, we are not truly free. When someone can fire or evict us for who we love, we are not free. The friends and family we have lost to suicide and overdose were not free. Nor are the more than 7,000 children in state custody. When we are caged for being sick or poor or for growing our own medicine, we are not free.
When our only choice is staying home and losing everything, or going to work and losing everything… we are not free.
So what do we do?
Forever, the rich have asked us to put our faith in them. It never works. We will only win the change we need by putting our faith in ourselves.
And our freedom will not be won with small ideas or half-measures. It will take the kind of boldness that honors the sacrifices of our grandparents and the lives of our children.
Every great change in American history was impossible, until it wasn’t. No miner who died at Blair Mountain could have imagined the gains won a generation later. No family starving through the Great Depression could have imagined the New Deal.
Months before the 2018 strike, teachers started going up to the capitol to begin their fight and politicians on both sides of the aisle said that winning a 5% raise was impossible, that PEIA funding was impossible. Instead of compromising or retreating, they fought harder. And in the end, they changed what was possible.
We are in a moment of reckoning where more of our freedom is up for grabs. What we do right now will shape our state for generations.
In our desperation, some of us will turn toward division and bigotry. Out of fear, others will grasp for old tools and partisan games.
But we will choose something better. We will choose to stand together. We will choose a New Deal for West Virginia.
The New Deal we have ratified is the boldest state platform in West Virginia history, shifting wealth and political power back to the working people of our state, and away from lobbyists, the wealthy, and out-of-state corporate owners. It assures that more than $2 billion will return to our neighborhoods, our local businesses, and our pocketbooks every year. It is the most detailed–with 32 separate plans, over 100 pages, more than 250 policy recommendations.
In the government we win, we will govern ourselves: Union workers and small business owners will lead the Department of Commerce. Foster parents, people with disabilities, veterans will run the Department of Health and Human Resources. And so on.
Government will no longer be led by lobbyists and bureaucrats. It will be led by people like us.
To win this New Deal, we will do what the teachers and school service personnel have done. We will do what Bill Blizzard and Sid Hatfield and Mother Jones did a century ago during the Mine Wars when Black, white, and immigrant coal miners marched together. We will do what our state’s founders did when they built a state with a vision that “Mountaineers are always free.”
We will choose to stand with one another, and protect our freedom.
There is nothing more sacred than the ability to raise one’s family with dignity. This is the most fundamental freedom and the one most in peril.
To protect this freedom, we will pass the nation’s most ambitious Workers Bill of Rights–which will reverse right-to-work-for-less, reinstate prevailing wage, guarantee equal pay for equal work, provide earned sick days and paid family leave, offer collective bargaining for all state employees, and more.
We will issue a no shut-offs order and assistance for families struggling to keep the lights on and the water running, and we will turn our unemployment offices into full-fledged workers centers where any working person can find help filing grievances, forming a union, negotiating a contract or going on strike.
We will pass a $15 minimum wage–with corresponding small business tax cuts–so every worker can live with dignity and every small business owner can afford to pay.
We will fix our upside-down tax system, so that the people who have the least no longer pay the most. We will win the nation’s strongest Earned Income Tax Credit and end off-shore tax havens. We will launch Corporate Crime and Political Corruption divisions in our state police–so that our state’s white collar criminals can no longer hide.
And, most important of all: we will raise the taxes on gas companies and out-of-state land-holding companies and keep our wealth here. That wealth will return a freedom dividend to our people and pay for the most ambitious public works program since the New Deal–33,000 living wage jobs created in water and broadband infrastructure, the arts, outdoor recreation, public services, senior services, and in small businesses across the state through our small business revolution plan.
When we make West Virginia the best place in America to raise a family, our children will stay, and old friends will return.
We will stop forcing our small business owners to play a rigged game with out-of-state monopolies.
Every penny saved by ending corporate welfare, exposing sweetheart deals, and making PILOT agreements more accountable is a penny earned for the nation’s most ambitious set of tax breaks, friendly regulations, and capital investments for small businesses, entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and cooperatives.
At long last, we will open the State Bank of West Virginia to speed up small business growth, finance infrastructure, draw down recovery dollars to jump-start our economy, and to start returning a dividend to the people of our state. And when lobbyists and compromised politicians try to keep us from stopping their graft, we will be ready with our new political corruption and corporate crime divisions in our state police.
We will also declare a one-year holiday on small business taxes, not only to preserve our own small businesses’ ability to compete, but also to attract entrepreneurs from around the country.
This is how we rebuild our economy. Not by pretending to be Pittsburgh or Denver, not by wooing Amazon and Wal-mart–but by investing in our small towns and making West Virginia the best place in the country to start a business.
We face not just an inequality of wealth and opportunity, but an inequality of pain. That trauma is a sickness passed from generation to generation. Every human being deserves the chance to heal.
We will win our fight against mental illness and substance use disorders, because we will choose the side of people in recovery and frontline workers who have crafted the nation’s most ambitious plan for harm reduction, prevention, recovery jobs, trauma-informed schools, and an effort to push resources and recovery centers into every community of our state.
We will fight for Medicare-for-All at the federal level. At the state level, we will fight to get as close as possible to universal health coverage. That means a state Pharmacy Benefits Manager, price caps for life-saving drugs like insulin, a Health Insurance Commissioner, tripling support for free health clinics, and a state-based public option for individuals and small businesses. Cost savings will go right back to consumers, as well as volunteer firefighters, EMS, and other first responders who deserve workers comp, higher pay, and a training system that makes sense.
We will fully legalize cannabis and make sure that wealth stays here, guaranteeing dignity for every miner, veteran, and senior citizen. And we will dismantle the criminal system as we know it, replacing it with a justice system more interested in making victims whole than making politicians feel tough.
Finally, in our recovery from the pandemic, we will never force another small business owner or working family to choose between their health and their paycheck. No West Virginian will be sacrificed so somebody else can make a buck.
Our kids are forced to bear too much. They attend schools starved of resources. They live in homes torn apart by Big Pharma’s pill mills. They face a future of climate catastrophe, food shortage, and falling wages.
We will pass the nation’s first wealth tax in order to fund the nation’s most ambitious education program. We will guarantee child care for every working family, career and higher education for every dedicated student, a state-run loan forgiveness program, and more than $300 million per year to build a public education system that works for every kid, no matter their zip code.
That means funding PEIA, teacher raises to match neighboring states, and a curriculum that lets teachers teach. We will choose arts and music and cursive and balancing a checkbook and entrepreneurship and life skills and career education… over endless testing. We will finally answer the mandate set forth by the Recht Decision, and promise equality in education. And we will replace youth prisons with afterschool programs and mental health services in every school.
We know that safe water and rich land are not the enemies of economic development. They are the foundation for it. We will win the most ambitious property rights and water protections in Appalachian history. We will choose local food and farmers over Big Agriculture and pass a new Homestead Act that chooses local landowners and counties over out-of-state landholding companies that steal from us everyday. We will multiply existing state fines for spills and violations by 25X, and permit costs by 10X–and use that money to rebuild, modernize, and consolidate our 690 crumbling water and sewage systems. We will pass the Modern Jobs Act, Power Purchase Agreements, establish an Office of Outdoor Education, and more.
We will trade the vice grip of Big Agriculture for the strongest local food supply chain in America. We will make broadband a public utility, by building the middle mile, investing in local ownership, and breaking the monopolies to help every student, every distant worker, and every entrepreneur who wants to make West Virginia their home.
We will squeeze every cent we can from coal and gas executives, so that every coal miner and gas worker is guaranteed a new middle class job and West Virginia will lead the energy economy for generations to come.
We will protect the freedom to govern.
Our aim is not merely to change who sits in the Governor’s seat. We must also change who governs.
We will end election-buying, limit campaign spending, and tax and restrict corporate lobbying. We will end the revolving door, and adopt the most ambitious program in the country for the public financing of elections. The size of your bank account should have no correlation with your ability to serve the public.
We will have more transparent and democratic governance: regional deputy governors to bring state government to you, grantwriters bringing millions to every holler, automatic voter registration, an office of the Inspector General to police government waste, a Public Service Commission run by and for consumers–not industries–and taxpayer councils to ensure that every agency in the executive branch is run by the people who hurt the most and work the hardest… and not those who profit from our pain and our work.
We will also fix the damn roads, by listening to our engineers instead of political appointees, by choosing maintenance over catastrophe, by taxing the trucks that do the damage, and by choosing accountable, union labor over sweetheart deals to costly, time-consuming contractors.
We will also choose the side of those of us who have been denied a seat at the governing table.
- We will choose the side of seniors, by finally ending the Social Security income tax–and starting a seniors jobs program to address their needs around transportation, recreation, health care, housing, and more.
- We will choose the side of women, and advance the nation’s most ambitious guarantee of child care, health care, education, reproductive rights, and economic opportunity.
- We will choose the side of Black and Brown people, and pass the nation’s most ambitious plan to end mass incarceration and attack the racial discrimination that persists in education, hiring, and health care.
- We will choose the side of the LGBTQ+ community, and pass the nation’s strongest EHNDA (Employment and Housing Non-discrimination Act) laws, ban conversion therapy, and recognize the dignity of every human being.
- We will choose the side of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, by fighting to end homelessness at its core.
- We will choose the side of veterans by guaranteeing not only higher education and job opportunities, but also the nation’s most ambitious suicide prevention plan, the veterans nursing home in Beckley, and a tax credit for those who have served.
- We will choose the side of miners, by granting a state Black Lung Pension Fund and a jobs guarantee.
- We will choose the side of people with disabilities, by clearing the IDD/Waiver waiting list, ending discrimination in pay and transportation, and developing a jobs program for people with disabilities and those suffering from substance use disorder.
- And we will choose the side of workers–expanding unionization, worker ownership, and worker governance in every industry.
Every dollar in this plan is accounted for. But we won’t win just because these plans add up. We will have to do what our grandparents did before us, and fight for our freedoms. People will say this plan is impossible; it is up to us to change what is possible… because West Virginia Can’t Wait.
Every one of our New Deal plans was written by West Virginians.
- Our volunteers asked 11,000 of their neighbors, “What would you do if you were Governor?”
- Our candidates attended 197 Town Halls, taking notes in community centers, church basements, union halls, and small businesses.
- Educators met after work to start sketching out their perfect school.
- Nurses traded ideas on the picket line.
- Our county and constituency captains ratified a first platform in the fall of 2019 and updated it in the spring of 2020 to reflect the current pandemic.
But the legacy of this New Deal dates back to John Brown and Mother Jones, to the United Mine Workers of America and the suffragettes, to the Poor People’s Movement and the CIO.
No one politician or slate of candidates can win this plan alone. We need you.
If you have an idea for how to make the New Deal stronger, or if you would like to lend a hand to win it, contact our candidate for Governor Stephen Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.