A face new to politics is challenging Republican incumbent David McKinley in West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District.
Democratic challenger Kendra Fershee is a law professor at West Virginia University in Morgantown. She’s never run for office before. Her progressive platform is focused on education, universal healthcare, and job creation. She says she wants West Virginians to have the freedom to stay in the state. She decided to run one day last year while doing yard work.
“I was mowing the lawn in the backyard - which in West Virginia means it was on a really steep angle. I was hot, I was sweating. I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. How am I going to be able to do everything? How could I possibly run for office? I can barely keep it all together right no w between work and kids. And there was this moment where it just hit me: Moms do hard things. We need more moms, and we need more moms doing hard things.”
Fershee is challenging incumbent David McKinley, a Republican with a business background in construction and engineering who has represented West Virginia in Washington since 2011. He’s optimistic about national trends and those in West Virginia and says he plans to continue to focus his attention in three areas: healthcare, opioids and economic revitalization in West Virginia.
“If we stay on those three subjects, I think we’re going to have continued success.”
McKinley and Fershee both point to the opioid crisis as one of the state’s biggest issues.. McKinley says as more funds are now available for treatment, he wants to shift attention to studying why the disease is so prevalent.
“I want to have some funds spent on [figuring out] what’s causing people to use drugs. There’s not going to be one simple answer; an 18-year-old is going to use drugs for one reason, a 45-year old for another, and an 85-year-old for another. But let’s understand why people are turning to drugs -- otherwise we keep putting a Band-Aid on it.”
Fershee has her own theories about why substance use disorder is so prevalent.
“People are really struggling to find work where they can make enough money to feed their families. They are working heavy labor jobs for long hours and getting physical pain that is then treated way-overkill on pain meds. We have communities that are falling apart and people aren’t engaged with their neighbors like they used to be, which causes people to seek a sort of pain relief when they’re feeling disconnected. This is a multi-faceted problem.”
Fershee wants to see a long-term strategy, as well as more resources and policy changes to address immediate health needs.
“One solution I can say right now: We need to get the federal government out of the way of our medical cannabis law. We can’t safely treat pain meds unless we have a safe alternative. And that’s medical cannabis.”
McKinley has not supported policy changes regarding marijuana, but he and Fershee do agree on other issues, such as a need for economic diversification in general, and that impeachment should not be used as a tool to manipulate political power. They seem to diverge on healthcare. Fershee is a strong advocate for universal healthcare, while McKinley says he’s open to the idea, with some reservations.
“Interesting concept,” he said. “I like the idea of having healthcare for everyone, but I want to make sure how we pay for it so we’re not bankrupting this country on it.”
McKinley has taken every opportunity to try to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and has pledged to “repeal any federal health care takeover passed in 2010.”
Financially, there’s no real contest between Fershee and McKinley. McKinley is a millionaire who has raised over a million dollars and spent half of that on this campaign, while Fershee is not independently wealthy and has raised and spent about 225-thousand dollars. Most of McKinley’s major contributions come from individuals and political action committees associated with the energy industry. Fershee’s is a grassroots campaign that has focused on smaller individual contributions as she highlighted in a recent town hall event.
“Five dollars, 25 dollars, 50 dollar contributions are people saying I believe in you I will vote for you. In the last cycle I brought in about $35,000 in unitemized contributions. My opponent brought in about $4,700. So when people say, ‘She doesn’t have enough money,’ --on the measure that I think matters the most, we’ve kicked his butt.”
Fershee was up against similar financial odds during the primary. She won the Democratic nomination by a significant margin, despite being outspent almost 10-to-1.
McKinley says the race all comes down to who will show up at the polls.
“It’s all gonna be what the people think about -- what the turnout is. If people want a change, then they need to make some changes.”