Raleigh Co. Delegate Mick Bates Switches From Democrat To Republican, Extends GOP Supermajority
Del. Mick Bates of Raleigh County has switched from Democrat to Republican, further strengthening the GOP’s stronghold at the West Virginia statehouse. According to a Wednesday news release, Bates changed his party affiliation at the Raleigh County Courthouse Wednesday morning.
In a statement, Bates noted the dramatic increase in Republican voter registrations in Raleigh County — a 30 percent swing in the last three years — as part of the motivation for his party affiliation change.
According to data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 433,287 to 408,572. In Raleigh County, which includes the district Bates represents, 18,668 Republicans outnumber the 15,272 registered Democrats.
He also pointed to public perception of national politics and what he sees as the West Virginia Democratic Party aligning more closely with prominent national Democrats.
“There used to be a difference between the way West Virginia Democrats and Washington Democrats were viewed. People no longer see that difference,” Bates said. “At a national level, the controlling interests and leadership of the Democratic Party continue to pursue positions that alienate voters in rural parts of the country and do not reflect the priorities, values or beliefs of the people of West Virginia. This is not changing and appears to be getting worse, not better.”
At times during the 2021 legislative session, Bates would vote with the majority on controversial proposals, including a bill that restricts transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity and a rollback of abortion rights.
In a statement, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, welcomed Bates — a physical therapist who owns Bodyworks in Beckley — to the majority.
“Mick has always been a pro-business delegate, and we certainly welcome his credentials and his experience as a small business owner to the party,” Hanshaw said. “This is an unprecedented time for the House of Delegates, with the largest Republican majority the state has ever seen, and as we continue to do the work of making West Virginia the easy choice for people and businesses to call home, the Republican Party will only continue to grow.”
Bates’ switch strengthens an already powerful Republican supermajority in the lower chamber that has gained increasing numbers since taking over after the 2014 election. The GOP will now hold 78 seats, while Democrats will have 22 seats in the 100-member House.
In a tweet, the West Virginia Republican Party also applauded Bates for the move to their side of the aisle.
“Democrat Delegate Mick Bates, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing District 30, today announced he has changed his party affiliation to Republican! Welcome to the Republican Party!”
First elected to the House of Delegates in 2014, Bates has served in a variety of notable roles for his caucus — having been minority chair of the House Finance Committee and chair of the West Virginia House Democratic Legislative Committee.
When then-House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison chose not to run for reelection in 2020, the top spot in the caucus went up for grabs. Bates ran to lead the House minority, but Democrats ultimately chose Del. Doug Skaff of Kanawha County.
Skaff pointed to the contentious race for minority leader — and possible further political aspirations — as Bates’ likely motivation to switch parties.
“He did not believe that he could win as a Democrat, so he decided that he would leave the Democratic Party,” Skaff said. “Delegate Bates must have decided that now is the right time for him to turn his back on the constituents who elected him to prioritize his future political ambitions. He is more focused on the next election than the next generation of West Virginians.”
House Democrats, including Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, offered scathing criticisms of Bates for the decision to leave the party.
“Bates just served as Democratic Party House Caucus Chair. We went from 41 members to 23 under his leadership. Then he ran to be Minority Leader. Lost. Now he's switching parties. What a profile in courage,” Fluharty said in a tweet.
West Virginia Democratic Party Chair Belinda Biafore called Bates’ departure “surprising and disappointing.”
“It seems Delegate Bates has public service confused with self-service. Delegate Bates has propped himself up on Democratic ideals and his constituency put their faith in him. He's turning his back on them,” Biafore said. “It's odd but telling that someone who is so outspoken against the majority party has decided to join them to benefit himself politically.”
As Bates noted in the statement accompanying news of his party change, he is not the only Democrat to have recently switched registrations.
Less than a month after the 2020 general election, Del. Jason Barrett of Berkeley County made the switch from Democrat to Republican, citing his desire to be more effective for constituents in his district.
At the time, Barrett also mentioned Bates by name — as well as the contentious race for minority leader — as part of his own motivations for leaving the Democratic Party.