County Chair of Monongalia County Democrats Kathleen Abate on the 2018 Elections

HC: How is your organization preparing for election week?

KA: We’ve been working our butts off very hard. The candidates themselves are going door to door; they’ve been doing this since September. They’re doing phone banks, they’re going to all kinds of events and candidate forums. They’re going to all the senior centers (the candidates themselves as well as members of the executive committee). One of the things that the executive committee is doing a little bit different from the candidates themselves, we’ve looked at the voter activation network and came up with over 4,000 voters that tend to vote in presidential years but not in midterms and we’ve targeted them. We’re doing some door to door targeting with that population (we’re not going to get to 5,000 doors but we’re doing as many as we can). We’re really excited about that strategy.

HC: What’s the importance of voting in midterm elections?

KA: It’s always important because we elect the House of Delegates. They’re the ones who work on our budgets, they deal with teacher raises and they deal with social issues. Every year the issue of the death penalty that comes up. There’s abortion issues, Medicaid… What they do down in Charleston in the House of Delegates affects us very directly. It’s always been important, but right now it’s even more important. It affects every one of us, every day. The water we drink, the air we breathe, the roads we drive on, and the school systems. It’s always important, but this year it’s extremely important to have people who reflect our values in Charleston. We’ve got some good candidates, so we’re trying to get people to understand that and vote for them.

HC: Why do you think only a small amount of college students vote?

KA: Nationwide, only 12 percent of college students voted in the last midterms. Early voting, as in a few days ago, only 1-2 percent of thousands of voters were under 25. There are factors: we don’t have a polling place near the Mountainlair Student Union. College students, if they’re registered to vote, they’ve probably registered to vote back home. They have to plan ahead to get an absentee ballot. There’s a process by which you have to contact the county clerk, and then they send you a ballot, and then you have to send it back in. Who mails anything these days? So, I think that’s a big factor. Early voting is easy because you don’t have to stand in line; you can do it whenever you want to, you don’t have to go to a certain polling place on election day; you go to one of three places in the county to vote. It amazes me that college students say they are too busy. They’re too busy to go door to door; they’re too busy to actively participate very much in political activities. I don’t understand that because I see single moms with kids and a job participating.

HC: What’s your opinion on how the upcoming election will affect West Virginia?

KA: [The election will affect] teacher pay raises and the PEIA. The Democratic caucus wanted to give teachers a pay raise and the Republicans voted against that. Thousands of teachers ended up at the capital and the Republicans thought maybe they should get behind that and give them a pay raise. The insurance issue has not been resolved yet, so this is pending. I think this election will also deal with air and water standards. This election will help with worker safety. There’s a new study that came out that the states that have Obama Care are the states that are doing better to fight the opioid epidemic. If you don’t have insurance, you can’t get treatment. I think that a strong democratic presence in Charleston is going to ensure that the people will actually get the money for treatment that they need. There’s an issue out there that we’re one of the few states that tax social security benefits. There are 14 in the country that do and we’re one of them! We want to get rid of the tax on social security. Morgantown has a fairly wealthy middle-class retirement community, but when you look at the entire state, a lot of people don’t have a lot of income and we’re taxing their social security benefits. I went down to the southern part of the state last weekend. There was a former miner who worked for a non-union coal mine. He thought he had a pension, but when they went bankrupt, this ended his pension. He didn’t have health care since he didn’t work for a union. He lost everything. He’s working as a guide at the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, not making very much money. He has to do it, even though he is retired, so he can afford healthcare. He’s got that and social security, and if you’re taxing your social security, then there is little left over for food and other necessities. This is an important issue. 

HC: Are you hopeful for a high voter turn-out for your party?

KA: I’m hopeful, but I don’t know. People say to look at all the early voting, but in the past, early voting has not increased voter turnout. This year, I think it’s different. I’m looking at places like Florida, Georgia and even Monongalia County, where early voter turnout is way up. This year is interesting, because in Monongalia County, we have the ACLU, Morgantown NOW, the Working Families Party and the candidate campaigns all doing Facebook, door- to-door, and phone banking. It’s not just the Democratic people at the committee pushing all this, it’s multiple organizations working on turning out the vote. I’m hopeful.

HC: How do you think that female voters will influence this election?

KA: I think a lot of female voters are interested in the female candidates. In Monongalia County, the female voters are turning out other voters. Women who hear Danielle Walker speak are going to turn out. Danielle is a single mom with two sons. She went from living in a gated community, then her husband left her. She ended up in Marjorie Gardens and then had a habitat house built. She has a son with autism and another son who goes to college here. She has a mother who she takes care of too. It’s really interesting to me, because women voters relate to those stories. You can have a coal miner’s wife from the western end of the county supporting a black woman who was in public housing and managed to pull her life together. I think women voters from this county are going to come out and vote. I think they’re going to influence the election by supporting more Democrats than Republicans at this point. I’m retired and I go to an arts studio at a senior center. The older women are going to vote against the Republican policy because they are so repulsed by what they see nationally. Older women are going to have a say in this matter, because they know what it’s like before equal pay, they know what it’s like before Roe vs. Wade, Title 9 and Title 7. They also have a sense of decorum, and the expectations of what leaders should be like. They remember the Civil Rights movement even if they weren’t a part of it. They have longer memories than the younger women do. They know more things about what has happened in this country and have seen changes in the last 50 years. They don’t want to go back. I think older women will have an effect on this election, and this is often overlooked. While older women are active in their election participation, I keep telling my millennial friends that you have to get out there and you have to vote!