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Blue-collar spirit

Can Pittsburgh’s Blue-collar Spirit Rescue Itself From Gentrification?



Once a booming coal town, Pittsburgh powered through a decades-long economic depression to rise from its steel factory’s ashes as a certifiable technology hub. Though easy to market as a Cinderella Story, the particular nature of Pittsburgh’s evolution is more complicated than a simple city-wide rebranding. Rather, the city serves as a bubbling microcosm of the United States as a whole: blue-collar values in tension with a progressive youth culture; neighborhoods traditionally populated by people of color suddenly gentrified, and a rapidly-changing job market in conversation with a resilient industrial spirit.

The glory of Pittsburgh’s manufacturing heyday is often obscured–both literally and figuratively–by the rampant pollution for which the city is infamous. Ironically, the city’s smoggiest, bleakest days were some of its most colorful: After Andrew Carnegie founded U.S. Steel in 1901, immigrants began pouring in from around the world, seeking work in thriving coal mines and steel mills. No matter one’s origin, the people of Pittsburgh built a culture of their own: one rooted in an honest, blue-collar work ethic.

And yet, the story of Pittsburgh’s decline is not an unfamiliar one. By the 1970’s, international competition put domestic steel at risk. Within 10 years, Pittsburgh’s steel factories were laying off hundreds of thousands of individuals in single sweeps.

The resulting cultural depression of the last two decades has had some predictable effects. The small towns surrounding Pittsburgh are rife with typical trailer park scenes: rusted out cars, meth labs, Walmart. Despite Pittsburgh’s fundamental humility, its core constituents continue to reel from this drastic shift. So much of the identity the city and its people had crafted was foreclosed and bulldozed almost overnight.

With Pittsburgh’s working class scattered to the winds, the 1990’s gave rise to a new face of the city; a glossy and expensive face. The influence of the high-profile Computer Science and Robotics department at Carnegie Mellon University combined with the state of-the-art medical research facilities as University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) established Pittsburgh as a hub of new technology.

By the early 2000’s, tech-based economic growth spawned a fresh series of city restoration programs. Lawrenceville, arguably one of Pittsburgh’s trendiest neighborhood (if judging only by the sheer volume of vegan bakeries and the exponential rise of rent), was once the focus of one such project. Rachel Webber of the non-profit Lawrenceville Corp. said in an interview that the area now boasts “25 blocks of independent businesses,” and the “largest concentration of women-owned businesses in Western [Pennsylvania].” Her organization sponsors regular community meetings between the neighborhood’s longtime residents and business owners, with the goal of fostering a dialogue about the changing face of the city, she said.

The combination of new, tech-based opportunities and youth-focused neighborhood revivals began drawing interest from major corporations, such as Google, and eager startups alike. When these high-tech offices began springing up in Pittsburgh’s abandoned lofts or in sparkly new real estate developments in the 2010’s, Pittsburgh’s change veered from gradual to exponential–with potentially dangerous consequences.

One could argue that Pittsburgh’s present status is a revival of the industrial spirit on which it was founded in the first place. The effects then and now are indeed similar: job growth, an influx of out-of-town transplants, and worldwide recognition as place where the future is being programmed. Yet the reality is, in 2017 many of the above are products of gentrification–a process that leads to disparities between race and class that are ultimately detrimental to any town. Appalachia, where poverty and income inequality already pose major issues to residents, is likely to feel the effects of gentrification even more rapidly.

As Peter Moskowitz outlines in his book How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, low-cost housing in fringe areas is likely to attract a young, white, artistically-inclined demographic that eventually gives way to CEO-townhouses and Whole Foods. But Pittsburgh managed to skip this step entirely, as its powerful tech-focused residents instantly established the city as a sphere for an even more elite demographic, and an even more insidious form of wealth.

Michaela Kron, Senior PR Manager of language-learning startup Duolingo, admits her company chose Pittsburgh as its base for the reasons mentioned above: “One key factor [in Duolingo choosing Pittsburgh] was the lower cost of living and the fact that paychecks go much further here than in large cities like NYC and San Francisco,” she said.

Naturally, the city aims to brand itself to attract even greater wealth and thus expand the tax base. A quick glance at the official Pittsburgh website shows talk of campaigning for an Headquarters, installing bike lanes, and “healing the environment” amidst regular notices and governmental minutia. Though there are objectively positive things happening in Pittsburgh, creating such a sweepingly optimistic persona for the town also willfully neglects a significant demographic that, until not too long ago, literally powered the city as employees of its mills and factories.

Pittsburgh might bear more solutions to this conflict than it seems to realize. As Melissa Wade of Visit Pittsburgh phrases it, “Pittsburgh is proud of its blue-collar roots and it will never lose the mentality that great results come from hard work, no matter what the industry.”

She seems hopeful that it’s only a matter of time before Pittsburgh’s newcomers will adapt to the city’s legacy rather than attempt to bulldoze past it. “New Pittsburghers learn [our attitude] quickly just from interacting with the people who live here and [carrying] on the beliefs that have been established for generations.”

Kron’s perspective differs slightly: “While many people still view Pittsburgh as a steel town, that hasn’t been the case for a couple of decades,” she said. “Besides the fast-growing tech industry, there are many excellent museums and cultural institutions here.” She also points to Pittsburgh’s flourishing culinary scene as source of growth.

The city is rife with engineers, tradespeople, and union organizers who are only prevented from participating in Pittsburgh’s new face by the sort of Silicon Valley-elitism that has been dragged Eastward. Corporations should be responsible for adapting to the city’s hard-working attitude, as opposed to co-opting it.

Some companies have recognized this need and are already implementing changes. Kayla Conti of Google said that the company makes a concentrated effort to hire local talent to their 500-person employee pool. Additionally, the company has made visible efforts to be as involved in the Pittsburgh community as other long-standing companies. Their “Grow With Google” initiative is already active in 11 of the city’s public schools. It’s an experiment of which the results have yet to be fully realized, but a step in the right direction nevertheless.

Changing the exclusionary mentality is not a large demand. The infrastructure for inclusion is already in place, and all that must change is the approach these companies take; all that must flourish is the true industrial spirit.

Katie Fustich, born in Pittsburgh, lives in New York City. Her work appears in Vice, Jezebel, The Pacific Standard, Salon, and more. Visit her at


Lesson Learned: Teachers Across the Country Follow West Virginia’s Lead



Teachers across the country are going on strike after West Virginia’s teachers successfully secured raises in a standoff with state officials that shut down schools in all 55 counties last month.

The widely-covered walkout in West Virginia is pointed to as a source of inspiration and empowerment by many teachers who took to protesting last week in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

In what one Kentucky teacher called a “wildfire” of protests spreading throughout the country in Dana Goldstein’s article in The New York Times, teachers are demanding raises and voicing opposition to cuts to already struggling school budgets.

Kentucky teachers protesting in Frankfort voiced their outrage over being kept out of the conversation on the overhaul of their pension system. Senate Bill 151 was eventually passed by the Kentucky Senate and took teachers by surprise, causing a lot of confusion, anxiety and anger.

“The process by which the legislature passed those bills the other day was so secretive that nobody knew for sure what they were protesting against. But they knew they weren’t treated well, let’s put it that way,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) in a phone interview with 100 Days in Appalachia.

Rep. Yarmuth believes that although some of the items passed in the bill might ultimately be a positive development for the teachers, the outcome could have been very different if not for the protesters’ presence in the state capitol’s rotunda.

“When you’ve got thousands upon thousands of people yelling at you, you might be inclined to make some last minute adjustments. We don’t know if that had any impact on it, but I suspect it had some,” added the congressman.

Asked about the reason for the secretive passage of the bill, Rep. Yarmuth said that: “The only answer I have is that they don’t want people to know what’s in it.”  

Among the major changes to the pension system is the introduction of a hybrid cash-balance retirement plan for teachers hired after January 1, 2019, as well as an increase in the required number of years on the job needed before acquiring the right to retire and the inability to accumulate sick days towards retirement. The bill also ends the inviolable contract for newly hired teachers, meaning that state legislators will be able to change the retirement plan moving forward.

Some of the proposed changes that were opposed by teachers, like cuts to annual cost-of-living increases, or additional contributions to health insurance, were ultimately kept out of the bill.

Kentucky’s Republicans framed the bill as a necessary step to overhaul the pension system. Damon Thayer, Kentucky State Senator, was reported by CNN as saying that it puts the system “on the path to sustainability.”

“They try to have it both ways. They say ‘we really didn’t make any changes of any consequence’ and then they say they put it on the path to sustainability. I don’t think you can do both. I think they are mutually exclusive,” Yarmuth said.“Truly, from the teachers’ perspective, they did not improve the situation and, in fact, worsened it.”

A crowd at the teacher rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City April 2, 2018. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

Both Kentucky teachers and Rep. Yarmuth share the belief that the successful strike in West Virginia served as a rallying cry and an inspiration for teachers in other states.

“I think the West Virginia strike was a huge factor in rousing this kind of effort in Kentucky and even though it wasn’t (about) compensation, it was essentially over a big picture — if we’re going to be committed to our public school system or not,” said the congressman.

In Oklahoma, where teachers have already won a little over $6,000 increase to their pay that was signed into law by the state’s Gov. Mary Fallin, they are not backing down, and are still demanding even higher raises. Next in line appear to be the teachers in the Grand Canyon State.

After rallies across Arizona, Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-3) came out with a statement supporting teachers. Mr. Grijalva talks about teachers as “some of society’s most important public servants, yet respect for their positions and sacrifices have reached a historic low in Arizona and other states across the nation.”

Rep. Yarmuth is convinced that what we have witnessed in West Virginia, Kentucky and other states is a part of a much broader trend, and that the wave of protests is a sign of a mobilization that could weigh on the midterm elections.

“Citizens decided that if politicians are not going to act in their best interest, they’re going to take to the streets and get in their faces and get to the polls. I think the student movement that started after Parkland is part of that, I think the #MeToo movement is part of that, I think Black Lives Matter is part of that, I think there is a common thread and that is we need to mobilize and get active in elections, because elections have consequences. It’s the citizens’ democracy and I think a lot of people realized they’ve been too complacent over the last generation.”

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A simpler way of life

“Roseanne” and Her People: Populist Voters Who Don’t Fit in Either Party



A pro-Trump comedian with a progressive past is a huge hit, raising larger questions about middle-ground voters.

Twenty-one years after it went off the air, ABC’s sitcom “Roseanne” has returned to television screens. The moment for the reboot could not have been better.

“Everybody seemed to be into it and, you know, the conditions that I wanted were right,” Roseanne Barr, the series’ star, told the New York Times recently.

The television audience seems to emphatically agree. According to preliminary ratings data released by ABC which doesn’t include web and recorded viewing, the revival’s premiere Tuesday evening was watched by 18.2 million people. Nor was it just older viewers who tuned in. Among viewers ages 18 to 49, the “Roseanne” reboot was the most-watched comedy show since 2014. The series’ return was watched by 10 percent more people than its original finale in 1997, which is especially remarkable considering how much broadcast television audiences have declined in recent years.

Beyond the fact that TV viewers can’t seem to get enough of familiar characters and recycled premises (“Will and Grace” and “Fuller House” are already in distribution while reboots of “Murphy Brown,” “Charmed” and “Magnum P.I.” are in the works), the return of Roseanne Conner as a diehard supporter of President Donald Trump is a perfect fit for our deeply conflicted politics.

While television shows routinely now portray families in more realistic fashion, “Roseanne” was highly controversial during its original run for featuring characters who dealt with financial problems, discussed LGBT rights and parent-child friction, and even confronted abortion (for many years a no-go zone on mainstream TV).

The second time around, the show is just as interested in dealing with contemporary issues, particularly the strong divisions between Trump’s critics and his fans.

That Rosanne Conner, a blue-collar grandmother in a Midwestern suburb, would end up as a Trump supporter makes perfect dramatic sense. As everyone knows by now, the former star of “The Apprentice” won the presidency by doing better among older, less-educated white voters who don’t live in big cities. The fact that Barr herself is also a Trump backer only adds to the authenticity.

Despite their demographic similarities, however, neither Roseanne comports to the stereotypes about Trump supporters. The fictional one has a biracial granddaughter and a grandson who enjoys wearing clothing typically worn by girls. The real one differs from the mold even more. She ran for president in 2012 as a Green Party candidate, was a vociferous critic of President George W. Bush, is friendly with left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore and still emphatically favors LGBT rights and legal access to abortion. Barr even anticipated the #MeToo” movement by a full year by publicly promoting accusations that comedian Louis C.K. had sexually harassed women.

In the premiere, when asked by her sister Jackie (played once again by Laurie Metcalf) why she supported Trump, Roseanne Conner cites Trump’s numerous campaign-trail promises that he would force companies to stop shipping jobs to other countries.

 “He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he’d shake things up. This might come as a complete shock to you, but we almost lost our house the way things are going.”

As in her program, Barr’s Trump advocacy has been a frequent topic during her publicity interviews. Her Times reboot conversation took an uncomfortable turn when she was asked about backing the president.

“Well, I think working-class people were pissed off about Clinton and NAFTA, so let’s start there. That’s what broke all the unions and we lost all our jobs, so I think that’s a large part of why they voted for Trump because they didn’t want to see it continue,” she told interviewer Patrick Healy, after a publicist tried to steer the conversation away from the topic.

Last week, Barr’s ABC colleague Jimmy Kimmel asked her about the apparent disconnect between her socially liberal views and her support for Trump, who had favored marriage equality and other LGBT-friendly issues before running for office, but in the White House has offered the religious right unparalleled access to political power.

“I’m shocked because you were a very liberal, socially liberal person in general,” Kimmel said in an interview last Wednesday.

 “I’m still the same — you all moved. You all went so f**king far out you lost everybody,” Barr replied. She then implied that criticism of Trump could ensure his removal from office, making Vice President Mike Pence, a hardcore Christian nationalist, the chief executive.

“Because we don’t want Pence,” she said. “You want Pence? You want Pence for the fricking president? Then zip that f**king lip.”

In Barr’s case, her loyalty to Trump seems to be an outgrowth of her strong support for Israel and its proto-Trumpian prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Once a vociferous critic of Israel’s policies, she has since become a defender of Netanyahu’s many controversial dealings with Palestinians.

That Barr would therefore make the leap to supporting Trump is not a huge surprise, considering Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu, a contrast to the strained relationship the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu had with former president Barack Obama and his original secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. (Israel is one of only four countries where support for the United States has increased during Trump’s term, according to a survey taken last November. While Trump has never had an approval rating over 50 percent in this country, Gallup found that 67 percent of Israelis supported the U.S. president.)

 In 2015, before Trump had declared his candidacy, Barr made clear that she opposed Clinton’s presidential bid. She reiterated that stance in June a year later, telling the Hollywood Reporter, “I think we would be so lucky if Trump won. Because then it wouldn’t be Hillary.” In tweets sent later that month (and subsequently deleted), Barr blasted Clinton as “anti-Semitic” and claimed that Clinton’s top adviser, Huma Abedin, was a “filthy nazi whore.”
Although Barr’s motivations for changing her political allegiance are unusual, a viewpoint that combines social liberalism with support for Trump’s (supposed) economic policies is not uncommon at all. It is, at least arguably, why he won the presidency. In a survey conducted last May, 30 percent of people who had voted for Obama in 2012 and then switched to Trump four years later said that they were primarily motivated by opposing Clinton. More than three-fourths of Obama-to-Trump voters, 77 percent, said they believed that as president Trump would create economic policies that were favorable to the middle class, or to all economic groups equally.

Those numbers square with research released in June of last year by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and a separate draft paper from Vanderbilt political science professor Larry M. Bartels. These findings suggest that Republican voters in general are not nearly as far to the right on economic issues as the national Republican Party, but they are generally unified on “culture war” or identity questions, such as standing for the national anthem or support for law enforcement. Both analyses show that Democratic voters are split in the opposite direction: They mostly agree on the need for more activist government but are split on cultural and social issues.

Here’s the Voter Study Group graph of where Americans stand politically on an x-y graph:

It’s remarkably similar to the distribution that Bartels’ study found:

Populists, meaning people who are moderate or conservative on social issues but economically progressive, are a substantial part of the electorate. But their opinions do not align with the opposing elites who set the agenda in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Rhetoric aside, leading Republicans are much more committed to cutting taxes and slashing government programs than to imposing Christian nationalism or blocking same-sex marriage. By contrast, Democratic donors and activists have tended to favor centrist economic policies while favoring liberal positions on cultural and social issues.

While there has been some focus on populist voters among political analysts, especially in the wake of Trump’s shocking election victory, it has usually been limited to the portion who are white. This is a mistake. Other research has made clear that many people of all races hold a combination of moderate or conservative social views and liberal economic opinions.

The Pew Research Center’s periodic “political typology” reports are the best source for this data, since they are based on much larger sample sizes than typical polls. As such, they can better parse the attitudes of demographic minority groups. According to Pew’s 2017 typology report, just 8 percent of people who were classified as “solid liberals” on every issue are black. Just 9 percent were Hispanic. About 73 percent were white. Since “non-Hispanic whites” are only slightly above 60 percent of the population, this suggests they are significantly overrepresented among self-described liberals.

Black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly concentrated among two other demographic groups, one that Pew calls “Devout and Diverse” and another that researchers called “Disaffected Democrats.”

Among the 9 percent of Americans that Pew classifies as “Devout and Diverse,” 44 percent were white, 30 percent were black, and 16 percent were Hispanic. This group strongly disapproved of Trump, with just 27 percent saying he was doing a good job as president. They also strongly favor government-provided health care and increasing public services even at the expense of more national debt, and they overwhelmingly believe that women face obstacles to professional advancement. Most want a bigger government rather than a smaller one.

At the same time, however, the group holds moral and cultural opinions that differ from conventional liberal views. A significant majority, 64 percent, agreed with the idea that belief in God was a necessary part of being a good person. Just 53 percent said that homosexuality should be accepted by society. This group is also evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage, with 47 percent of Devout and Diverse respondents saying they opposed same-sex marriage, while 46 percent supported it. The group is similarly divided on the question of abortion, with 49 percent saying it should be legal in most or all circumstances and 46 percent saying it should not.

While an overwhelming majority of Devout and Diverse respondents (89 percent) favored more changes to ensure equal rights for black Americans, a plurality of 47 percent agreed with the idea that African-Americans who cannot get ahead are responsible for their problems. Just 41 percent agreed with the opposing statement that racial discrimination was the main reason that many black people “can’t get ahead.” This group is also surprisingly divided on the Black Lives Matter movement, with only 57 percent saying they support it with 31 percent saying they oppose it. On immigration, 44 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “immigrants are a burden,” while 47 percent said that immigrants strengthen the country.

Similar dynamics exist among the 8 percent of Americans whom Pew classifies as “Bystanders,” people who are largely uninterested in political participation. To the extent that they have political opinions, their views are economically progressive. Only 15 percent want lower taxes on businesses, just 29 percent want a smaller government, only 37 percent think the economy is fair, and 68 percent say government has a responsibility to make sure that all Americans have health insurance.

At the same time, a majority of this group, which is just 37 percent white, told pollsters that belief in God is a prerequisite for being a good person. Just 44 percent disagreed with the idea. A modest majority (59 percent) approved of same-sex marriage, while opinions were closely divided on legal abortion (favored by 51 percent). On Black Lives Matter, only 41 percent said they supported the movement, with 30 percent opposing it. More of this group (50 percent) blamed poor black people for their economic situations than blamed racial discrimination (41 percent).

While it’s not clear in what group Pew’s researchers would classify Roseanne Barr (or her fictional alter ego), the reality is that both parties could position themselves better to align with the electorate. The question is: Do they want to?

During his campaign, Trump made all kinds of promises suggesting he would pursue progressive economic policies, but as president he has largely ignored those pledges. By the same token, Democratic officials have encountered some resistance from base voters who won’t tolerate candidates who want to curtail abortion rights, who oppose gun control or who support law enforcement over civil rights critics.

In the end, if one party decides to change its orientation toward the left-behind middle-ground populists, the other will likely follow suit. But for now, both Democrats and Republicans are going to follow network television executives and keep sticking to what worked before.

This article was originally published on Salon.

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"Our Revolution"

Not Just Red vs Blue: What the Teacher Strike May Reveal About West Virginia’s Political Landscape



Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol Monday, March. 5, 2018 in Charleston, W.V. Hundreds of teachers from 55 counties are on strike for pay raises and better health benefits. Photo by Tyler Evert, the Associated Press.


The nine-day teachers’ strike in West Virginia made headlines across the country, and some are wondering what the events mean for state’s political landscape. How did a widespread labor strike, a practice normally associated with Democrats, happen in a state that voted so heavily for Donald Trump?

We wanted to take a step back to explore how politics have been changing here over the past generation. West Virginia has been dubbed the heart of Trump Country, but politics here are anything but straightforward.

The strike wasn’t organized solely by Democrats or Republicans, or even union bosses. But some, like Angela Nottingham, a seventh-grade social studies teacher from Cabell County, said the action changed how they plan to vote this year. Nottingham said she switched from Independent to Democrat after watching some Senate Republicans fight against the pay increase teachers were demanding.

“I know there are a lot of people out there that are Republican and kind of vote with their party. I think a lot of people are gonna look back at who supported them. And I really do think they, and the people around them, and the people they influence, will vote for the people who helped us out,” Nottingham said.

In 2016, President Trump received nearly 70 percent of votes cast in West Virginia.

Woman attending protests at state capitol on March 6 to rally for teacher raises in W.Va.

West Virginia has a Republican governor, and Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature.

And yet, more voters in the state are registered as Democrats than Republicans. In Wyoming County, for example, President Trump won 83 percent of votes, even though more than twice as many voters in this county are registered as Democrats, compared with Republicans.

Could Democrats gain back some ground in the Mountain State?

With the midterm election around the corner, we wanted to get a sense of where we’re headed, so West Virginia Public Broadcasting polled more than 900 teachers and school personnel in an anonymous, online survey. This was not a scientific poll designed by statisticians, but it did give us some interesting insights.

About half of the teachers we surveyed said they identify as Democrats, while nearly 30 percent said they are Republicans. A majority said they voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as their first choice for president in 2016.

A majority (36 percent) said they plan to re-elect U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. An overwhelming majority (97 percent) of those who live in the state’s Third Congressional District in southern West Virginia — the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, a Republican — said they plan to vote for Richard Ojeda.

Both Ojeda, who’s currently serving in the state Senate, and Manchin are Democrats. That is, West Virginia’s version of a Democrat.

A Different Kind of Democrat  

Democrats in West Virginia held the majority in the state Legislature for more than 80 years. More than half of our governors have been Democrats. But, as political science professor Rob Rupp explained, the Democrats in the Mountain State have traditionally been a populist party, pro-labor and socially conservative.

Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, posited that three are three political parties in America: Republican, Democrat and West Virginia Democrat.

“And by that I mean you have kind of a hybrid party, a big tent where conservatives, moderates and liberals all joined,” unique to West Virginia.

Rupp has spent most of his career studying what he called “West Virginia’s slow-motion realignment towards the red” in this state, and he said that shift has been happening for a long time. But, he argued, it rose to the surface about 15 years ago. President Bill Clinton was fairly popular here, but Democrats on the national stage since have failed to resonate with voters in this pro-coal state.

“And now [Democrats] are realizing that to many West Virginia voters, the national Democratic Party is out of touch with the state voters,” Rupp said.

This shift didn’t happen overnight. Rupp and other political scientists said one reason for the change is the declining power of unions. Labor has had a strong influence on politics here since the 1930s, and labor unions have typically sided with Democrats.

But in West Virginia, Democrats are far more conservative than the national party: They’re pro-coal, and they usually side with conservatives on social issues, like gay rights, abortion and immigration.

Rupp said now we’re seeing the breakup of that hybrid, West Virginia-style Democrat, a change that could have national implications. West Virginia may be a bellwether for rural America, and for the national Democratic party.

“And now with the loss of power was seeing a struggle between, should the Democratic Party turn left or should it turn right, now that it suddenly finds himself in minority.”

But with the recent teachers’ strike, some people are wondering if the Democrats, could stand a chance of regaining power in West Virginia. And what kind of Democrats could get elected? Ones that lean progressive? Or will they need to look more like the West Virginia Democrats of the past?

One example of the traditional-style West Virginia Democrat is state Senator Richard Ojeda. He’s running for Congress in southern West Virginia and he says he voted for Trump, but he’s been disappointed by the President’s performance. He strongly supports labor unions, and was one of the teachers’ loudest supporters during the recent strike.

But if Democrats like Ojeda want to take back power in West Virginia and across Appalachia, they’ll have to figure out one big question: how to bring back jobs to coal country.

Former coal miner Nick Mullins, who blogs at The Thoughtful Coal Miner, said liberals haven’t done enough during the past decade to appeal to working class voters in Appalachia.

“To be frank and honest [Democrats] need to come off of their moral high horses and come back down to the level of the working class,” said Mullins, a registered Independent from southwest Virginia, who said he didn’t vote in the November 2016 election.

“The working class needs help. We’re facing longer hours or stagnant wages. People aren’t enjoying life right now because they’re having to work so hard and long to just have a little bit of happiness in their lives.”

This story was originally published on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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