Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango is expected to announce soon that he is entering the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Salango would become the second person in recent days to reveal his intentions.
State Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone) announced last week that he’s running. Salango would make the sixth person in the Democratic field. The other four are Stephen Smith,* Jody Murphy, Cecil Silva and Edwin Ray Vanover.
Salango has apparently been thinking for months about running, but I’m told he has finally reached his decision and has put together a team to help him.
The 46-year-old Charleston attorney is relatively new to politics. He was appointed in 2017 to fill a vacancy on the Kanawha County Commission when Dave Hardy resigned to accept the position as state Revenue Secretary in the Justice Administration. Salango then ran for election and won in 2018.
Like many West Virginians, Salango had humble beginnings, growing up poor in rural Raleigh County. He put himself though WVU and law school in Morgantown and then went to work as a civil defense attorney.
In 2006, he became a founding member of the law firm Preston & Salango where he has concentrated on personal injury litigation. The practice has made him wealthy and, while he plans to ask for campaign donations, he will also be able to open his own checkbook.
Salango’s wife, Tera, is a Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge. The couple has two sons, age 17 and 13.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper already counts himself as a Salango supporter. “He would absolutely be the best person I know to be Governor,” Carper told me. “I’ve never seen such forceful leadership.”
According to Carper, Salango also has a reputation as a scrappy guy. “I don’t think he has any problem mixing it up.”
Salango will need those skills, his personal wealth and more if he expects to have a chance. Incumbent Republican Governor Jim Justice and Republican challenger Woody Thrasher both have deep pockets. Additionally, Democrat Stephen Smith has proven to be an effective fundraiser and grassroots organizer.
The field of candidates—both Republican and Democrat—is growing. So far, 15 people have filed pre-candidacy papers, although most of them have raised little or no money, indicating they are candidates in name only.
Salango must also overcome the challenge of every political newcomer—name recognition. It helps that he has lived, worked and been elected in the largest county in the state, but you can’t win a statewide race by just carrying Kanawha County.
Watch for Salango’s formal announcement next week.
*(An earlier version of the commentary left out Stephen Smith’s name.)