Mountain Party gubernatorial candidate Charlotte Pritt is no stranger to the political scene. She spent 8 years as a state legislator in the ’80s into the ’90s. Then she ran for governor and almost won in ’96. She made history once, and she’s hoping to do it again.
Historically, an Inside Outsider
A former educator and the daughter of a coal miner, Pritt first ran for governor in the democratic primary against Gaston Caperton in 1992; then she made history in 1996 as the first woman to be nominated by a major party to run for governor of West Virginia. She ran then as a Democrat, and almost beat the Republican Cecil Underwood. Pritt became the chairwoman of the Mountain Party in 2012 -- a party she says she was instrumental in forming. Now that party has recruited her to run for the office again.
“My years working in the Legislature were for working people, small businesses, the unions, the environment and women,” Pritt said. “I feel as if these experiences have really given me the opportunity to be the very best person to lead the state in this critical time.”
“She has had a reputation dating back to her days in the legislature as being a maverick,” said William Hal Gorby, an assistant professor of history at West Virginia University. He explained that Democrats in West Virginia have been divided ideologically for a long time and Pritt represents the left-leaning, progressive wing of the party -- as well as many independent voters.
“Whenever Jim Justice won the nomination,” Gorby recently recalled, “when I heard her name -- it’s not a surprise.” Gorby said she ran against Caperton in ’92 and effectively sent a message that the Democratic Party in the state was getting away from the party’s base.
“When the party turned its back on the progressives,” Pritt said, “the New Deal Democrats of FDR -- when it turns its back on us -- the party left us. So I went to the Mountain Party.”
Now, just as she did in ’92, Pritt is challenging the conservative-leaning Democrats in the state as well as the far-right Republicans. She champions many of the same causes that Bernie Sanders has -- and is hoping the voters who came out for him in the primary will rally behind her. Many progressive voters are getting behind her -- including former congressional candidate Sue Thorn.
“I am a member of the Democratic Party, and I am very happy to come out and say -- I am a Democrat for Pritt,” Thorn said. “Charlotte just understands the struggles that West Virginians are going through. And frankly, I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. That hasn’t gotten us anywhere in West Virginia.”
Thorn ran for federal congressional office in West Virginia’s first district in 2012. She lost in the general election, gaining 38 percent of the vote. She’s campaigned for Pritt this election cycle and, despite Pritt’s lower polling numbers, she believes the Mountain Party’s candidate stands a good chance.
“She’s somebody who’s honest,” Thorn said. “She’s always come right out and talked about what’s important to her. And people trust that.”
Democratic Party leaders say a vote for Pritt is a vote for the Republican candidate, Sen. Bill Cole. But supporters like Thorn disagree.
“What Charlotte’s hearing is a lot of Republicans saying they’re going to come out and vote for her. So I don’t think it’s a given that she’s just taking votes away from Democrats. She’s appealing to a wide range of people,” Thorn said.
A Maverick Platform
The Mountain Party’s platform seeks to increase public participation in government, promote social justice, and to protect the environment. Pritt’s approach to economic development falls far outside the natural resource-extraction mainstream.
“No plan that is based on extractive industries that damage the environment or your health is really an economic plan,” Pritt said. “My economic development plan has three criteria: It has to be a sustainable economy that we can do over and over again -- like hemp. It has to be equitable. And I want to make certain it’s ecologically sound.”
Pritt also wants to see Marijuana decriminalized and all those imprisoned for nonviolent cannabis crimes pardoned. She’d like to see prevailing wage reinstated, she’s pro-choice, and she supports the right to bear arms. Pritt said that despite her liberal-leaning stance, she’d be an effective governor -- even if the Republican Party maintains control of the Legislature.
“I have a very good working relationship with people of all parties. Democrats, Republicans, Independents -- they know they can work with Charlotte Pritt. I don’t give up. I have a persistence in work ethic that I think is unmatchable.”
Pritt said a vote for her is a vote against a conservative status quo that has led the state into dangerous economic times over the course of the past 15 years.