On Tuesday there were primary elections in several states and much media attention has rightly focused on the fiasco in Georgia where once again voters in De Kalb and Fulton counties, the latter where the city of Atlanta is, and where both have large black populations, faced lines that lasted for many hours to vote, a further example of how the Republican-controlled state government tries to suppress black votes by making it much harder for them than for white districts, by having far too few polling stations, malfunctioning equipment, and insufficient and inadequately trained poll workers.
But I want to focus on one good result that happened in a different state.
The 2019 Netflix documentary Knock Down the House that I reviewed here focused on four progressive women candidates who challenged conservative incumbent Democratic members of congress in the 2018 primary elections. Of the four only one was successful, and that was Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning win over Joe Crowley. She went on to be elected to Congress in November of that year and has made a name for herself by fighting for progressive causes.
This year sees one of the other three Paula Jean Swearengin win her primary race for the US senate seat in West Virginia. She had lost in the 2018 senate primary to incumbent Joe Manchin, one of the most conservative Democrats in the senate. This time she has won her senate primary and will be challenging the other incumbent senator Republican Shelley Moore Capito in November.
(For those who live outside the US and are baffled by the system here, party candidates for the November general elections (that are held every even year in November) are selected in primary elections earlier in those years. Each state elects two senators, each for six-year terms, and a varying number of representatives proportional to the population of the state, each for two years. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election every even year but only one-third of the 100 senate seats. Manchin’s six-year term was up in 2018 and he was re-elected until 2024 while Capito’s senate seat falls due this year and whoever wins that will remain in that office until 2026. There will be no West Virginia senate election in 2022. Got it?)
Swearengin, the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, ran on an unabashedly progressive platform. She was backed by Bernie Sanders and a host of progressive groups, such as Brand New Congress, Blue America, Flip the Senate, Save Main Street, Progressives Rising, Future Generations, 90 for 90, and the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition, Progressive Democrats for America, Forward Thinking Democracy, Women for Bernie, Silvers for Sanders, and People for Bernie.
Swearengin’s website says she is taking on Moore Capito “to restore economic opportunity for our entire Appalachian community, make Medicare for All a reality, and bring our progressive values to the U.S. Senate.” Her platform prioritizes promoting economic diversity—including a just transition away from coal—addressing the opioid epidemic, updating the state’s infrastructure, and investing in education.
“No one person or election will solve the systemic injustices that plague our society,” said Swearengin. “But, together, we can stand in solidarity with the cause.”
“When we unite our fight for justice, we can accomplish our goals,” she added with a nod to the protests provoked by the police killing of George Floyd. “We can end systemic racism. We can guarantee healthcare as a human right. We can ensure every person has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.”
West Virginia is a stunningly beautiful state (John Denver famously described it in his song Country Roads as “almost heaven”) but also one that has serious problems. It depended on the coal industry that is now in decline and the strip mining practices of the companies have flattened mountain tops and left ugly scars on the countryside and ruined the water. The remote Appalachian regions have extremely high rates of poverty and almost no services for the people living there.
Here is Swearengen having a one-on-one conversation with Bernie Sanders in 2017 describing her life and those of the people of her state and what made her want to run. It is very moving to listen to. She is the kind of person who should be in elected office.
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) March 13, 2017