30 Minutes With Stephen Smith

Democratic West Virginia gubernatorial candidate says it’s time for the Mountain State’s people to ‘demand our fair share’

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Yesterday, I had 30 minutes to talk with Stephen Smith, a Democrat seeking to be West Virginia’s next governor. The General Election is still 17 months away – Nov. 3, 2020 – but he speaks with a sense of urgency as if it is 17 days away.

Smith was the executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition for six years before resigning from that position and announcing his candidacy.

He is running to replace Jim Justice, a Republican who won office in 2016 as a Democrat, but became a Republican after assuming office. I asked four questions of Smith, which follow. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: If you were to deliver a State of the State address for West Virginia today, what would you say?

Smith: “The people of our state are working harder than we ever have before for a smaller piece of the pie than ever before. In our history, because of unions and other determined efforts by workers, we saw pay and benefits rise for workers. Today, workers are more productive as ever, but get less. As a result, there are two West Virginias. This is the richest time in our history, but we are not addressing the problems facing our people. The opioid crisis, early childhood poverty, crumbling roads, and rising inequality are not being addressed.”

He argued, “In West Virginia, it’s not the left versus the right or the Democrats versus the Republicans. It’s the good old boys robbing from everyone else.”

He concluded, “The good news is that we don’t have to take it anymore. Because it is the wealthiest time in our history, it is time for us to come together, across party lines and demand our fair share. We can have the best roads, the best schools, a clean environment if we can get the wealthiest and the out-of-state landowners to pay their fair share.”

Q: As governor, would you require the state agencies – such as the DEP – that are responsible for the health, safety and emergency preparedness of West Virginia, employ the Precautionary Principle? (Note to readers: The Precautionary Principle is defined at the end of this article).

Smith: “Right now in West Virginia, the relationship between the people, land and the natural gas industry is completely broken. We fundamentally believe in the Precautionary Principle.” Seemingly conceding that he will, at the least, inherit a powerful lobby in the natural gas industry should he be elected, Smith explained, “If we are going to take wealth and resources out of the state, we must ensure that much more of that wealth stays here, and that whatever damage is done is remediated. Neither of those things are happening now. Adhering to the Precautionary Principle is in the interest of the people of the state.”

Q: In paragraph 57 of his 2015 ecological encyclical, Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” To be clear, this is a question about leadership, not the ecology or religion. So, what do you want West Virginians to know about how you plan to take action on the issues you consider urgent and necessary? In short, how will you lead?

Smith: “The plan of this campaign is not for me to take action or hold power. It is for us to hold power. For too long, those with the most power have it and hoard it. The people in West Virginia have the least power. Yet, these are the people that lead by example — by helping their neighbors. We see and hear that time and again in every community we visit, and I experienced it in my previous work. So, the question is how do we install the people with less power into having more power.They have shown us repeatedly that they care more about West Virginia than the lobbyists and good old boys. The way we approach that is that is to acknowledge that no one person can save us. Not Jim Justice, not Joe Manchin, not me. That’s why we’re spending our time recruiting people in every county and in every constituency to run for office. That’s how we get good government.”

Q: Is there anything you’d like the voters of West Virginia to know that I haven’t given you an opportunity to say?

Smith: “Yes. The most important thing I would say is, call me. If you’re reading this and you think this would be an opportunity to get plugged into a campaign for the first time or run for office yourself, or be part of our campaign, call or email me. Everyone has a role. I’d love for anyone reading this to get hold of me. Email is best.”

Contact: You can reach Smith at 304-610-6512 or by email at stephen@wvcantwait.com.

The Precautionary Principle Defined: The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

Photo credits: Ric MacdowellVideo

Links: If you want to know more about Smith and his campaign, you can learn more by clicking on the links below:

Campaign Homepage

Reasons for Running




News Update: Just today, West Virginia Metro News reported that Governor Justice claimed exclusive credit for Donald Trump caring about West Virginia. According to the article Justice said, “And his attraction to West Virginia, contrary to anything you may think, is me. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s just me.”

© The Appalachian Chronicle, 2019.

One comment

  1. Thank you for doing this Article Michael. I hosted Stephen for the town hall in West Union. I was impressed enough with him to donate to his campaign. Stephen appears to be a special type of human being that appears to care. If he elected, I truly believe that WV might rise above the muck and mire that we have sunk into. Hoping that you and yours are well. Mirijana


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