BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Democrats tapped two members of the House of Delegates as their new leaders Saturday, electing Mike Pushkin to a four-year term as chairman and Danielle Walker as vice chair.
Pushkin, a member of the House from Kanawha County since 2015, will replace Belinda Biafore, who has served as chair since 2015 and decided not to seek re-election. Pushkin, who is Jewish and is a 52-year-old taxi driver and musician from Charleston, has served as the party’s vice chairman since January.
Meeting in Bridgeport, party leaders also elected as vice chair the 45-year-old Walker, who is West Virginia’s only Black female lawmaker and has served in the House from Monongalia County since 2019.
During his acceptance speech, Pushkin said he had car problems on the way to the meeting, and a man on his way home from work went out of his way to drive Pushkin to Bridgeport. He said his conversation with the man renewed his hope for the state.
“He didn’t want to leave somebody on the side of the road,” Pushkin said. “That’s West Virginia values. That’s what we’re about. I’m tired of hearing that the Democratic Party doesn’t represent West Virginia values, because we’re the party that doesn’t leave anybody behind.
“We’ve got to get our message out and work hand-in-hand with our candidates up and down the ballot, to get that message out to the people: We’re the party of West Virginia values. We’re only going to be able to do that if we work together.”
They’ll have their work cut out for them. Republicans control the governor’s office and have supermajorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates. There are 33 Democrats combined in the 134-member Legislature. The GOP has held a majority in both chambers since after the 2014 election.
Democratic voter registration numbers in West Virginia have been dropping over the past decade, buoyed by criticism of former two-term President Barack Obama’s energy policies in coal-rich West Virginia. In 2014, registered Democrats in West Virginia fell below 50% for the first time since 1932. In February 2021, registered Republicans overtook Democrats.
GOP state chairwoman Melody Potter resigned in January 2021. Mark Harris of Raleigh County was picked in March 2021 to serve the remainder of her term.