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Community organizer launches gubernatorial bid

December 3, 2018

Courtesy photo Stephen Smith, center, 38, who ran the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, announced he is running for governor as a Democrat in the 2020 elections.

Stephen Noble Smith, 38, who ran the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition for the past six years, confirmed Wednesday he plans to run as a Democrat in the 2020 gubernatorial election.

Smith already has planned a local campaign kickoff event for 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at 9 Fairway Drive in the Timberlake subdivision in Huntington.

Put on by local hosts, the event is one of 12 “small, casual” get-togethers being hosted across the state this month that are part potluck, part fundraiser, family friendly and open to the public, according to his campaign.

“I’m running because the only way we get that kind of government we deserve is if we — all of us — get together and take it,” said Smith, a first-time candidate. “That means we have to start with each other. No outside company or billionaire politician will save us. It is time to bet on our own people.”

He said despite a number of positive economic indicators for the state, it doesn’t feel like the economy is thriving like some say it is. This stems from a tax structure that works against small, local business, he said, and a class of political leadership that’s out of touch with working families’ problems.

“In terms of real GDP per capita, we are producing more wealth right now in the state than we ever have before, but it doesn’t feel like it, because that wealth isn’t staying here,” he said. “It’s not staying in our pockets, it’s not staying in our roads, it’s not staying in our schools, and as long as that imbalance exists where the work and the wealth that we’re creating here goes somewhere else, we’re going to continue to be in crisis.”

As proof of the calamity, he pointed to different forms of citizen uprising, like voters ousting politicians who supported a controversial manufacturing plant, volunteer groups out-performing government agencies assigned to help communities respond to recent flooding, or a statewide teacher and school service personnel strike that prompted a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees.

Smith said every so often, the “direction of the country is up for grabs,” and in cases like the Civil War, or the Mine Wars, a nation looks to West Virginia for guidance. Given how West Virginia’s strike prompted similar movements across the country, this, he said, is one of those moments, and it’s a developing story.

“I think the legacy of the teacher and school service personnel strike is still being decided,” he said. “I think we are in the middle of the moment, I don’t think we’re at the end of one. That’s part of what makes it exciting. The teachers and school service personnel themselves are still fighting for (insurance) benefits. The moment is one that has not passed.”

Smith was born in Charleston, but moved to Texas when he was 9. After graduating high school in Texas, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard University and a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

After graduating, he worked with a series of nonprofits and community-based political organizations from Dallas, to Chicago, to Botswana.

Though he has not made a definitive announcement, incumbent Gov. Jim Justice said he’s likely to run for re-election in 2020, according to a WCHS-TV report. Both Smith and Justice (circa 2016) have at least one thing in common: They’re running, or ran, for governor as Democrats and outsiders.

However, Justice switched to the Republican party in 2017, and as Smith said, is no outsider, but just a product of old-style politics.

“I don’t think you get to run as an outsider in West Virginia if you’re a coal baron,” he said. “Jim Justice represents the old way of doing things where you make things work for you and your friends, and make promises that you don’t keep to everyone else.”

Smith’s Huntington kickoff event is open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP by Dec. 10 by contacting Jeff Smith at wvjeffsmith@gmail.com.

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