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Democrats pick delegates Pushkin and Walker to lead state party

West Virginia Democrats made a generational and philosophical change in their leadership today, selecting delegates Mike Pushkin and Danielle Walker as the chairman and vice chairwoman of the party.

Belinda Biafore

Belinda Biafore, who had served in the role since 2015, chose not to run for another term. As Biafore announced her successor, she urged Democrats to provide all their support.

“It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a volunteer effort, no pay,” Biafore said. “So I’m asking each and every one of you to stand united behind the next chair and his team and do everything you can to make their life easier.”

Pushkin, a 52-year-old Charleston resident, has served in the House of Delegates since 2015. Last year, when Biafore ran into turbulence over a party affirmative action conflict, Pushkin said “it is time for a change.”

It turns out the change is him. Pushkin took on the vice chairman’s role early this year and now will be the face of the party’s political efforts.

Mike Pushkin

“I’m proud to find out just how hard this job really is,” Pushkin said after being elected during a meeting of the West Virginia State Democratic Executive Committee in Bridgeport.

“We’re going to have to take the fight to Republicans in November, so please put all the division behind us. Let’s work together. We’ve got much more work to do.”

Pushkin won a party vote over the other candidate for chairman, former House Majority Leader Rick Staton, 67-21. Staton then asked to withdraw his candidacy and threw support to Pushkin, asking that the new chairman be named by acclamation.

Danielle Walker

Walker wound up being the only candidate for the vice chair role, selected by acclimation. Walker, a 45-year-old Morgantown resident, has served in the House of Delegates since 2018, and often talks about her experiences as a Black, female, LGBTQ member among the 100 delegates. But she said her representation means more than that.

“We are one,” she said in her acceptance speech. “We are mountaineers. We are you. We are working people. We are union members, we are laborers. We are the village. We are teachers, children and families. We are foster, adoptive and kinship families. We are veterans. We are the voice of all. We are diversity, we are inclusive,” she said. “Most importantly, we are proud Democrats.”

The meeting to select new leadership included several past party leaders, including Biafore, Nick Casey and Pat Maroney. Another former party chairman, Larry Puccio, did not participate after resigning from the Democratic Executive Committee in 2020. All are seen as aligned with the state’s most prominent Democrat, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

Although Democrats dominated West Virginia politics for most of the prior century, Republicans have gained control of the most significant state elected offices over the past decade. Republicans are in the Governor’s Office and all of the elected executive branch roles and have supermajorities in the state Senate and House.

Five years ago, at the start of 2017, West Virginia had 552,346 registered Democrats and 391,620 registered Republicans, according to state figures. 

Now West Virginia has 442,476 registered Republicans and 383,461 registered Democrats according to the most recent figures from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Over the many years that Democrats dominated West Virginia’s political landscape, the party was more stratified with a more conservative wing and a progressive wing. Pushkin and Walker each have been endorsed by the progressive Working Families Party.

Pushkin today described the party’s strength as its ability to relate to everyday West Virginians. Pushkin, a cab driver and musician who is also Jewish, illustrated his point by saying his car broke down — blew a rod — as he was driving to the state party meeting this morning. A young man on his way home from work turned around and stopped to offer Pushkin help.

“The conversation I had with him renewed my hope for this state, and it renewed my hope for our party,” Pushkin said. “That’s West Virginia values. That’s what we’re about. We’re the party that doesn’t leave anybody behind.”

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