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With Departure Looming, Ojeda Pleads with Senate to Consider His Legislative Proposals

Will Price
West Virginia Legislative Photography
In this Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, Sen. Richard Ojeda speaks on the Senate floor.

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-7th, spoke to his colleagues on the Senate floor to announce his looming departure to focus on a run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. In a typically passionate tone, Ojeda criticized Republican leaders for failing to run bills he believes would have been helpful to all West Virginians.

“I’m sure everybody has heard quite a few rumors out there. I just wanted everybody to know there is truth to the rumor,” Ojeda said Thursday.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday that Ojeda plans to submit a letter of resignation to the governor’s office next week. Upon leaving, he will have served two years of his four year term.

“Over the last two years, all of my legislation has died with the exception of one. Everything else hasn’t really even saw the light of -- not even on a committee floor. But I believe I have pushed some really good bills that should have seen the light of day,” he said.

Ojeda exampled one piece of legislation that would make it a hate crime for assaulting a person motivated by sexual orientation. Other bills he feels were overlooked deal with helping veterans and out of work coal miners.

As the lead sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Act of 2017, Ojeda has been a strong proponent of cleaning up the program that goes into effect July 1. He continued to call for allowing West Virginians access to the drug for medical purposes.

“Two years later, we are just legal for medical cannabis -- on paper alone. We can talk all the rumors that you hear about the evils of the devil’s leaf -- if that’s what you want to call it. But we know for a fact that it helps people with all kinds of illnesses,” Ojeda said. “Let’s finally get West Virginia on track.”

As for that issue and other legislation left lingering upon Ojeda’s departure, he urged his Senate colleagues to consider his proposals in his absence.

“Take my name off those bills and then pass them -- because they benefit West Virginians,” he said.

This session, Ojeda said he is sponsoring two new bills. One would allow retirement for corrections officers after 25 years. The other bill would require all registered lobbyists to wear a body camera while on the grounds of the state capitol grounds.

“If you don’t want them to see the light of day because it has my name on it, remove my name. But, give it a chance,” he said.

Ojeda’s departure from the state Senate is motivated by his run for president in 2020, which he announced less than a week after losing to Republican Carol Miller in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.

“People can say ‘this guy doesn’t have a chance’ all they want. I don’t have the money, but they don’t have the fight. I am in this fight,” he said.

With the 2020 election still 22 months away, Ojeda is seen by national political commentators as a long shot for the Democratic nomination for president. Dozens of prominent Democrats have already made campaign announcements.

Although Gov. Jim Justice has yet to formally announce Ojeda’s resignation as official, the West Virginia Democratic Party issued a news release Thursday that gave public notice of the upcoming vacancy. The release also outlined the process by which the canary will be filled — with the party gathering applications and then handing them over to the 7th Senatorial District Executive Committee. The committee will choose three potential replacements and offer those choices to Gov. Justice, who will make a final decision. 

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