CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., says he does not want to spend his time in Congress further polarizing the country.
“I’m too old for that,” he told MetroNews earlier this week. “I want to demonstrate what I have learned over my career in engineering and running businesses: You have to be able to cooperate with each other.”
McKinley, the former state legislator and previous West Virginia Republican Party chairman, is seeking a sixth term representing West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. The area includes the state’s northern counties as well as the cities of Fairmont, Morgantown and Wheeling.
McKinley is running against Democratic candidate Natalie Cline, a computational linguist who, like McKinley, lives in Wheeling.
While still devoted to his party and supporting President Donald Trump, the congressman said Congress, while seeming dysfunctional and split along party lines, does accomplish legislative goals through collaboration.
“People come to me all the time knowing that we get things done. If I say we’re going to work on something, we work on it and get it done,” he said. “Last week, I had 10 requests from Democrats across the country that want to work with me on legislation because we get things done.”
Cline grew up in Williamstown. She and her husband moved from West Virginia to Washington, D.C. in 2013 before returning in 2017 for their son Teddy, now 5, to grow up in the state. Cline said while she is glad to again live in West Virginia, moving back was an unnerving experience.
“We had only been gone for about five years, so it wasn’t that long. It wasn’t like we weren’t still connected to friends and family here,” she explained. “The more I thought about it, the more upset I got. I kept saying how could the place that made me who I am cause me to feel culture shock.”
Cline said speaking to childhood friends and social workers, it became evident the feeling stemmed from concerns about the opioid crisis and the impact on her son’s generation.
“We have over 7,000 kids in foster care. Eleven percent of our kids are living in what we are now calling a ‘grandfamily’ household,” she said. “If we don’t do something now to help these kids, I really fear what opportunities they’re going to have when they graduate from high school.”
Cline opted to run for Congress, saying most problems are connected to the nation’s legislative body.
Cline has already announced policy proposals aimed at addressing health care concerns and economic opportunities; the Family Reinvestment Act would direct federal resources for establishing medical clinics and rehabilitation programs in regions affected by health crises.
“It’s also going to be doing something similar in our public schools,” Cline added. “It’s going to make sure these schools are getting funding, and this funding would be going toward making sure our public schools have enough school nurses.
“Right now in West Virginia, we have a problem where we have one nurse being divided among two or three different schools. Many days out of the week, there is not a nurse in the building depending on which school you are at, and that’s just unacceptable.”
Cline’s Gen Z Initiative would provide grants to areas with diminishing populations for operating virtual STEM courses, which she said would provide students entry-level job experience and college course credit.
“STEM is largely dominated by men. In my opinion, we need to encourage more women to get into STEM,” Cline stated. “When I’m looking at places like West Virginia that are experiencing significant population loss … what we need to do is look at what industries are growing in our nation, and we need to make sure we are providing enough opportunities and resources to those entering the workforce.”
McKinley sees economic possibilities in the district; he spoke favorably about the state’s shift toward natural gas and embracement of technology jobs, noting growth in the aerospace and defense industries.
“I’m not looking for the status quo. I want to see us move ahead in other areas,” he said.
McKinley said fossil fuels play an important role in the state’s future, adding while markets are embracing renewable sources of energy, countries such as China and India will continue utilizing coal and natural gas.
The congressman teased a bipartisan legislative proposal he described as “innovate first, regulate later,” in which the federal government would fund 10 years of research centered on reducing carbon dioxide emissions at fossil fuel energy facilities.
“By the year 2050, we could reduce our CO2 emissions by 80% by using that research and technology,” he said. “Then, through trade and other incentive programs, be able to get India and China to follow suit with it. They are not backing off using fossil fuels.”
McKinley prides himself on bipartisanship; the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy in May ranked McKinley 10th in their bipartisan index for the House of Representatives. The organizations score legislators on their ability to work with colleagues from opposing parties.
“If I’m going to change the brand of politics, I think that one of the most important things to demonstrate is you can get things done in Washington,” he said.
McKinley last year worked with Democrats and Republicans to secure funding for coal miners pensions and health care. The United Mine Workers of America, who has endorsed McKinley, cited the congressman in addition to Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., as leaders in getting the necessary money.
“When you start mining less coal, less money goes into the pension,” McKinley said. “More and more miners are retiring because they are losing their jobs, so we had real pressure on our miners all across America.”
Both McKinley and Cline said more needs to be done in light of the coronavirus pandemic; McKinley said he is hopeful Congress will pass another coronavirus relief bill before Election Day, but it will require compromise from both congressional chambers.
“We’re still going to need to have some help for individuals staying home,” McKinley said. “Not $600 a week because that was too much of an incentive to stay home instead of looking for any work out there. Maybe it’s $300 to $400.”
McKinley added: “I wish it wasn’t done under that timeframe because it’s politicized enough. If you’re focusing on the election, it makes it even more of a political event. People are still hurting. Maybe we’re past the worst, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday a deal may not happen until after the election.
As for Cline, she said it is time for Congress to consider universal basic income, a proposal made popular during the Democratic presidential primary by businessman Andrew Yang. The presidential candidate proposed a guaranteed monthly payment of $1,000 to all adults regardless of employment status.
“I was a Yang Ganger earlier on,” Cline said. “I think the coronavirus has highlighted how right he actually is.”
Cline said such program would allow people to continue paying bills and make purchases if they became unemployed or had an unexpected expense.
“It helps us be able to survive, and right now I think we can all look and agree that it is something that we desperately need,” she added.
Cline added she supports redefining what it means to be a small business. She cited corporations receiving coronavirus relief funding ahead of small businesses as the reason for a change.
“We need a new category for small businesses,” she explained. “Main Street-type businesses that employ 50 people or less. These are the ones that define our communities. Then when we’re proposing stimulus legislation for future crises, we can make sure it is covering them so that they actually have a chance to get these ultra-low rate loans.”
Early voting in West Virginia began Wednesday. The early voting period continues through Oct. 31.