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Trump Popular But Health Care Divides Southern West Virginia Voters

A red flag supporting President Donald Trump hangs on the front porch of a home in southern West Virginia just days before the 2020 election.
Jessica Lilly
A red flag supporting President Donald Trump hangs on the front porch of a home in southern West Virginia just days before the 2020 election.

Voters in Southern West Virginia likely will support President Donald Trump as they did in the 2016 election. But some register concern over big-ticket issues like health care and they say the Affordable Care Act may have helped people who are poor but it hurt small businesses and the working class.

Henry Hornsby Jr. has never been what you would say, “big on politics” or elections. He’s not proud to admit that he wasn’t even registered to vote until the last presidential election in 2016.

You know, I just, I've always felt like you … worried about yourself and your own,” Hornsby said as he sat at his desk surrounded by family photos and pictures of vintage race cars. “Sometimes you hear who's won the presidency before West Virginia, even votes.”

“I just really never felt like West Virginia even mattered towards the presidency and stuff. And secondly, I got to say that I really didn't think that the President of the United States would have much bearing on my success or failure in Beckley, West Virginia.”

Hornsby says he was proved wrong during the Obama Administration.

Henry Hornsby Jr. stands in front of his family business, Henry's Radiator Shop.
Jessica Lilly
Henry Hornsby Jr. stands in front of his family business, Henry's Radiator Shop.

Holding Onto Hope for Small/Family Business

He owns a small business just across from Robert C. Byrd Drive in Beckley. The shop has been around for almost 50 years.

It’s a family business Hornsby inherited from his parents. He spent a lot of time in the shop with his dad and the workers while growing up.

Yeah, he always tried to, you know, treat everybody fair,” Henry Jr. remembered about his father. “He really took a lot of pride in his name, both by business and both just by moral conduct. You know, he told me, he spent 50 years making his name, and instructed me that I can ruin that in a day. And be sure not to do that. And I've never forgot that.”

Before his father, Henry Hornsby Sr. passed away in December 2001, his dad diversified the family business and opened a car wash, and some rental properties. Hornsby tries to honor his dad’s legacy by staying in business, working hard, and being fair.

I have one guy that's been here for 35 years,” Hornsby said as he got choked up. “And so, they're a little more than just your average employee. I mean, they're our second family. You know, I know their wives or kids. And when you have to think about them not getting paid. That's tough.”

RadiatorWorkers_2020.jpg
Jessica Lilly
Employees at Henry's Radiator Shop in Beckley hoist a radiator during the work day.

Henry is especially proud that he has never laid off anyone from the shop. Back in 2010, Henry says business dropped so much under the while Barack Obama was president, that he had to consider layoffs.

Health Care Made Things Tough

When you have to choose between paying the insurance premium, or buying groceries, that's a pretty tough choice, too,” Henry explained.

On top of this, Henry says new regulations on health care as part of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare increased the price of insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, most private insurance rates were based on risk factors such as if someone was a smoker, their age, etc. Now, income is a factor in the cost. While Hornsby says he does believe the Affordable Care Act has helped people, it’s been hard on small businesses and the working class.

It’s just one way that I see the government taking that reward for hard work and trying to make everybody equal,” he said. “I definitely believe in equality, and things like race, sex, all that, you know, but everybody don't put forth the same effort and I don't think everybody deserves the same reward without the same effort.”

Hornsby says business has increased since Donald Trump took office and loosened environmental regulations. While that might mean more radiators to hoist in the shop, so far, things are about the same in terms of health care.

“Honestly, right now we're in pretty much the same boat as we was four years ago with health care,” Hornsby said. “I know it’s tough. It's hard to make a law that’s good for everybody. There’s always that group that gets crapped on and Obamacare really crapped on small business owners.”

He’s concerned that Joe Biden would just be more of what they saw under former President Obama.

The Hornsby’s aren’t the only ones voting based on health care.

Brianna Wade says it’s her No. 1 issue that’s influenced her vote.

There's a lot of people in southern West Virginia, that need health care,” Wade said. “And, you know, that may not have proper access to it, especially kids who (are) in between the ages of 18 and 26, who are going to need to be on their parents health care for a little while until they can get established, or get, you know, health care of their own.”

Diversity Across County-Lines

Brianna Wade is a 28-year-old Black woman. She spent her young childhood growing up in Welch, in McDowell County.

If somebody didn't like you, it wasn't because of the color of your skin,” she remembered about Welch, “It's just because of your attitude.”

BriannaandBernie.jpg
Courtesy
Brianna Wade with Former Presidential Candidate in 2016, Bernie Sanders.

She often longs for the community pride and support she found in Welch.

I wish there were more jobs in McDowell County, because I would prefer my kids to grow up down there, kind of like I did,” Wade said, “... playing with their relatives and kids in the neighborhood, that type of thing.”

She moved with her family to Mercer County when she was about 14 or 15 years old.

“I’ve always heard that Mercer County was more racist than McDowell County and I saw that first hand,” Wade explained her experience. “It was also different with the coal camps, because I always learned that with coal camps, everybody's granddad like or dad worked in the coal mine, so everybody had to have each other's back. So there was more sense of community and mentality versus Mercer County.”

In neighboring Wyoming County, folks are concerned about health care, too.

It affected our family personally, because my sister had Obamacare and it was so expensive, it was really hard for her to make the payments,” said Terri Smith, a lifelong resident of Mullens. So it helped some of the poor people, but it didn't always help the working class.”

Terri Smith is a registered Democrat but will be voting for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Jessica Lilly
Terri Smith is a registered Democrat but will be voting for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Health care cost is not the only reason why Smith is voting for Trump. Like Hornsby, for her, part of it comes down to work ethic.

I think you need to work for what you get,” Smith said. “No one's supposed to hand you anything.”

Smith’s No. 1 one reason why she’s voting for Trump? Border patrol.

I really think that we could allow anyone into our country, but they need to come in legally,” Smith said. “We protect our own homes at night by locking doors and we need to do the same thing for our country.”

Smith also says her emotions pull her to the Republican party based on their stance on abortion.

I don't believe in abortion,” Smith said. “An innocent child has a right to live.”

Not everyone has made up their minds in the county. Amanda Sesco is a registered Republican but says her views are more Libertarian. Last time, she didn’t vote for Trump, but for Green Party nominee, Jill Stein.

Well, in hindsight, I just feel like I just wasted that vote on the last election,” Sesco said. And I just threw it away.”

Voting Against President Trump

For Kent McBride, a registered Democrat, he knows who he won’t be voting for.

I will not be voting for Donald Trump,” McBride said.

He’s not as worried about the national economy, because he says there are more important things to focus on.

I don't want my son to grow up in a world, my two sons to grow up in a world that gets worse than it is today,” McBride said. “We're all going to die one day, and it's not going to be about how big or a 401k's you have. It’s going to be about, do you live a life that cares about other people? Do you take care of people around you, and I'm worried that the direction this country is going, we're going to be no better than the people that we've fought for years, because we're going to become that country with that divide.”

Corrected: October 14, 2020 at 8:49 PM EDT
A previous version indicated that it was the health care costs that forced Henry Hornsby to consider layoffs. Henry blames a drop in business brought on from tighter environmental regulations while Barack Obama was president.
Corrected: October 14, 2020 at 8:38 PM EDT
Henry Hornsby Jr.'s father did not add the storage units. The family added this business after Henry Hornsby Sr. passed away.
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