One of the biggest stories of West Virginia’s Primary Election was Amy Nicole Grady’s defeat of Senate President Mitch Carmichael for the Republican nomination in the 4th Senatorial District (Jackson, Mason, Putnam and Roane Counties).
So big, in fact, that it made the New York Times. “The West Virginia Senate president who was dogged by teacher protests at the statehouse lost to a teacher in his Republican primary re-election bid Tuesday,” read the AP report in the Times.
Carmichael backed teacher pay raises and additional funding for educational improvements but earned the wrath of teachers for his support of charter schools. He was the target of teacher and service worker anger during two strikes, prompting opponents to push a “Ditch Mitch” movement.
Grady is a schoolteacher, but she does not currently belong to either of the state’s teacher unions—the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia. However, she garnered considerable teacher support during her campaign and credits their backing with contributing to her victory.
The teachers’ support of Grady is the most significant example thus far of the current political strategy by the unions. Historically, the teacher organizations have backed Democratic candidates, especially when Democrats were in the majority.
However, Republicans now control both chambers of the Legislature, which has caused the teacher organizations to seek out candidates who are supportive of their education issues, even if they are Republican.
Another example can be found in the 9th Senatorial District (Raleigh, Wyoming and McDowell Counties). Teacher organizations supported David “Bugs” Stover over incumbent Sue Cline in the Republican Primary.
Stover, a former schoolteacher and current Wyoming County Circuit Clerk, defeated Cline by twenty points. There were also several House of Delegates races where the teacher unions backed Republicans.
“We’re looking for more moderate people that want to move West Virginia forward regardless of party,” said WVEA President Dale Lee, adding that there is “no question” teacher support propelled Grady to a win over Carmichael. “We’re looking for people who want to support public education, our educators and our students.”
AFT-West Virginia President Fred Albert said his organization is looking beyond party affiliation. “We’ve told our members and the public that elections do matter,” Albert said. “We’ve gotten some good Republicans who are with us.”
The strategy by the unions also reflects an evolution of the Republican Party in West Virginia. As the party becomes larger and holds more offices it inevitably becomes more diverse. Think back to when the Democratic Party was dominant in the state. Legislators ranged from liberal to moderate, conservative and “Democrat in name only.”
Now it is the Republicans turn, and as Tuesday’s Primary Election demonstrates, interest groups are adapting to the shift.