CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Both candidates in the race for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District say they understand what voters want in a legislator. The two, however, do not share the same perspective.
For U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., people are supportive of President Donald Trump and want to see the economic results recorded before the coronavirus pandemic. For Cathy Kunkel, Mooney’s Democratic challenger, residents need lawmakers who will fight for improving basic needs while resisting corporate influence.
The two have the same goal: to represent the 2nd District, which spans from Putnam County to the Potomac River that divides Virginia and Maryland.
Mooney, who is seeking his fourth term in office, is a conservative who touts the achievements of the Trump administration and an agenda supporting coal, anti-abortion proposals and lower taxes.
Most of Mooney’s time in Congress has been with Republicans controlling the House. That changed in January 2019 when Democrats became the majority party and began setting an agenda different from Trump and the Republican-led Senate.
“I had higher hopes for the first six months or so that we could try to work on some bipartisan stuff,” Mooney told MetroNews last week. “Instead, most Democratic members of Congress focused on impeaching the president of the United States for no good reason.”
Mooney added: “President Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to get undercut or opposed just because he is a Republican. Frankly, he’s been great to West Virginia, and I support him wholeheartedly.”
Kunkel said the prevalent issue with Congress is most of the legislation the body passes is not beneficial to the average American.
“I think a lot of West Virginians are frustrated with the status quo right now,” she said. “We have an economy that is not working for a lot of West Virginians, and the pandemic has made that worse, expanded our inequalities here and shown a spotlight on a Congress that seems to be more concerned that Wall Street is doing well than making sure the majority of Americans and West Virginians are able to recover from the pandemic.”
Kunkel’s previous experience includes conducting research on the effects of natural gas development and testifying before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia about energy planning. She became a political advocate following the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, in which she helped create groups focused on water quality and social justice.
Her platform centers around a “New Deal for West Virginia,” in which the title pays homage to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies amid the Great Depression. Kunkel backs universal health care and Medicare for All, additional funding for schools and staff, and modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, including water systems and broadband.
“Families should not be working multiple jobs and unable to pay for health care and education. We need to guarantee health care as a human right in this country. We need well-funded public education, and we need infrastructure investment,” she said.
Kunkel noted after watching multiple coal companies file for bankruptcy, the state also to attract more economic opportunities and grow local businesses rather than place its hopes on coal and natural gas.
“A lot was promised to the state in terms of tax revenues and jobs, and we really haven’t seen that materialize like it was promised a decade ago,” she said of the natural gas industry.
“I think we’re making a lot of the same mistakes and seeing the wealth leave our state. We need to focus on building up our small businesses that keep wealth in the state, hire West Virginia employees and diversify our economy instead of putting our eggs in the next resource extraction basket, so to speak.”
Kunkel said the state needs to “chart a new course,” which has to include infrastructure improvements and expanding access to capital for small business development.
“I think we could have a thriving rural economy here in West Virginia, but not if we keep on the same path that we are on currently,” she added.
Another promise of the Kunkel campaign is not taking corporate PAC donations. She said if elected, she will support increasing taxes on wealthy households and corporations.
“One of the most fundamental problems with our politics today is not so much Democrat v. Republican, but just the ability for wealthy interests to write laws and to continue to make sure our economy works really well for them,” she said.
“It’s just not right to me that some of the wealthiest corporations in our state and our country can pay zero dollars in federal income taxes while our citizens and small businesses are struggling to get by.”
West Virginia Can’t Wait — the grassroots populist movement launched by former gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith — backed Kunkel when she entered the race last September. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Kunkel last week, and other supporters include the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, AFT-West Virginia and the state AFL-CIO chapter.
Mooney called Kunkel a socialist who does not fit in with traditional West Virginia Democrats, namedropping Sen. Joe Manchin and Nick Casey, Mooney’s 2014 Democratic opponent.
“This lady is a total socialist. She’s radical,” Mooney said. “She doesn’t represent West Virginia Democrats. Unless the Democratic Party is just going to become socialist, there is no way she represents even Democrats in West Virginia.”
Jacobin, a socialist publication, described Kunkel in a September 2019 interview as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The Kunkel campaign told MetroNews the candidate has not donated to the organization in years.
“This is a very different opponent than I’ve had before,” Mooney added. “Very radical and anti-coal.”
Mooney pointed to the 2017 tax law as one of his significant legislative accomplishments. Mooney backed the bill, which lowered individual and corporate tax rates.
“I’ve always advocated for tax cuts,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing jobs leave our country to go to China and other places. We need to bring those jobs back home.”
The congressman plugged his support for anti-abortion legislation; he is the lead sponsor of the Life at Conception Act, which would declare “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being.” Women would not be punished under the bill for accessing abortion services.
“I think I reflect West Virginia when I stand for the unborn children who are being killed for absolutely no reason,” he said.
Mooney also mentioned the economy before the coronavirus pandemic, in which the nation had a low unemployment rate and a flourishing stock market.
“Whether someone likes Trump or doesn’t like Trump, they can’t argue against that in the first three years of his term, the economy was excellent,” the congressman said. “He promised to do that, and he did. He was pushed and attacked a lot and impeached for no reason, but he stood firm.”
Mooney voted against impeaching Trump in December 2019 and opposed the related proceedings, which included interrupting a closed-door deposition that was part of the House’s investigation.
“When someone becomes president, sometimes they can forget some of the things they promised and reverse themselves. This man has not done that,” Mooney said. “He has stood very firm on what he has promised. He’s been fighting to build the wall, he’s cutting excess government, and he’s been great to the coal industry.”
Trump endorsed Mooney in the June primary election when the congressman faced off against Dr. Matt Hahn, a physician who lives in Berkeley Springs. West Virginians for Life and the National Rifle Association also back Mooney.
There are opportunities for bipartisanship in Mooney’s eyes; he said he has worked with Democratic colleagues on investing in infrastructure and broadband projects, and he supported three of the coronavirus relief packages that became law.
Mooney was one of 40 Republicans who voted against the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March; the bill appropriated money for food assistance programs and health services as well as funded additional unemployment benefits and paid sick leave.
“They put it up at 2 in the morning, they wouldn’t tell us how much it cost, and they waived the requirements that it be paid for,” he said. “I just don’t think that is a good way to legislate. We have to know how much things cost that we vote for.”
Mooney also voted against the House’s $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief proposal in May, which the chamber passed. The Senate has been unable to pass another relief measure, including a “skinny” relief bill earlier this month.
Kunkel is open to debating Mooney, yet the congressman has rejected the opportunity.
“I consider stuff like this debating. You’re interviewing both of us and putting it out there,” he said. “She’s done different town hall meetings, and I’ve done my thing. I just like to debate the issues, but I don’t see us doing a one-on-one platform type of thing.”
County clerks began mailing absentee ballots to voters on Friday. According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, 65,348 registered voters across the state have applied to vote by mail.