Note: Williamson Forward does not endorse any candidate seeking public office, but simply reports the happenings of the Tug Valley area.
Stephen Smith officially kicked off his 2020 campaign for governor of West Virginia on January 5th. A crowd of around 200 people gathered in the Local Union 1440 United Mine Workers of America Hall in Matewan to find out more about Smith’s vision for the state. Residents from across the state including counties as far as Berkley, Upshur, and Monongalia traveled to southern West Virginia to be a part of his campaign launch.
At the registration table, the campaign provided red bandanas with the campaign slogan, “WV Can’t Wait” printed on them. The red bandanas symbolize the mine wars history of the area. Each person was also offered a sign with the campaign slogan printed on it and a blank space to write in what he or she feels WV Can’t Wait for any longer. While waiting on Smith to take the floor, those attending used the “selfie station” to take photos with their signs. A three-piece ensemble provided live music for the crowd, while the candidate talked with the people in the room.
The Reason Why
Smith took the floor and began to discuss why he has decided to enter the race for governor.
“A lot of why I’m running comes down to the fact that I believe we are failing our children in this state,” he said.
During the afternoon, the campaign offered a children’s session prior to the speech to all attendees. During the session the children were asked to draw what they would do if they were governor. Smith called up to the stage area, his own next-door neighbors age 6 and 9. The brothers shared their drawings, with the 9-year-old saying he would give money to help others. Drawings from the other children in the session were shared before the rally continued, with some noting more art and playtime is needed in schools.
Throughout the rally, Smith called upon other community leaders to speak to the crowd. Terry Steele, a member of the local 1440 United Mine Workers of America chapter, spoke about the mine wars that took place in the Matewan area. As he spoke about how the region became known as, “Bloody Mingo”, it became a history lesson for many in the hall.
Reflecting on Steele’s discussion, Smith said, “Just down this street some men got killed because they valued their liberty over the lives. Black, white, immigrant. They didn’t always speak the same language. They went to war together because they dared to reject a system that valued company profit over the dignity and freedom of the people that lived in this town and worked in those mines. They made a sacrifice for something greater than their selves.”
Smith continued to discuss other topics such as the opioid crisis, unsafe drinking water, poverty, and the needs of the children in the state.
“If we do nothing, The CDC tells us that our kids’ generation will be the first in West Virginia history to die younger than their parents. I’m running for governor because I want my son to know that I was a part of a movement that wasn’t going to let that happen without a fight.”
The candidate went on to say he wants to see West Virginia be first in education and broadband and end the drug epidemic.
Local retired teacher and activist, Wilma Steele, was asked to wrap-up the rally by giving a history of the red bandana and the Battle of Blair Mountain.
FYI: Stephen Noble Smith
Smith was born in West Virginia where his family lived until he was nine years old before relocating to Texas. He is a graduate of Harvard University where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Smith went on to earn his master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. He is also the author of one book, “Stoking the Fire of Democracy: Our Generations Introduction to Grassroots Organizing.” In 2007 he married Sara Whitaker. When the couple decided to start a family, they made the move back to his home state of West Virginia.
“It was easy for Sara and I to move back home in 2012 and raise our family here because we wanted to live in a place that cares more about who you serve than what you own,” Smith said
For the past six years, he served as the executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. He resigned from the position after making the choice to run for governor of the Mountain State. Smith was recently named 2018 West Virginian of the Year by West Virginia Living Magazine.
Smith, along with his wife and son, Jackson, reside in Kanawha county.
Bid for Re-Election
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice also announced his bid for re-election in 2020. On January 7th, the current governor officially announced his candidacy during an event at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center.
Justice is a graduate of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. While there he earned his master’s in business administration. In 1977, he started the justice Family Farms. Now, Justice Farming Operations, his companies farm more than 50,000 acres of land across four states. In 2009, he purchased The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Other business owned by Justice include Bluestone Industries, The Resort at Glad Springs, Black Knight Country Club, and Brier Patch Golf Links. The Governor is also a major supporter of youth and charitable programs.