Erin Beck, Beckley Register-Herald
Several teachers involved in planning the statewide teachers strike earlier this year say teachers remain unusually interested in the upcoming mid-term election, although some have found themselves removed from voter registration lists.
Teachers also said they aren't buying into the current argument from GOP leadership. Republicans, led by Governor Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, have sought to the give lawmakers credit for passing state employee raises earlier this year.
“We work with kids all day,” said Emily Comer, who helped organize the strike. “It’s not so easy to get one over on teachers.”
West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported earlier this month that Senate GOP leadership had hired an international firm, Mercury LLC, to help with messaging on the teachers strike. At a news conference, Governor Jim Justice said pay raises earlier this year occurred "not because of people that were ‘rah-rah-ing’ and everything upstairs" but "because of the good work of the Republicans."
In one email, Carmichael asked the company to help him "craft a narrative," according to a public records request. Republicans had attempted to stick to lower raises earlier in the nine-day strike, but the raises did require bipartisan support in the end.
“I'm not up for re-election,” Carmichael said, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “I just want to make sure that the proper narrative is spoken as it relates to the teacher issue, because I think I've not – in my years of public service – seen anything have so much misinformation about a particular issue.”
Comer, of South Charleston, said that colleagues who were previously uninterested in politics now approach her to talk about the election.
"You can’t erase our memories and give us new memories," Comer said. "We know what happened."
Earlier this month, one month before the mid-term elections and three months before the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference at the capitol, promising a 5 percent pay raise for public employees and $100 million toward the state's Public Employees Insurance Agency which funds benefits for teachers and other state employees.
"If they really wanted to give us another raise," Comer said, "they would call a special session and give us that raise before Election Day."
Wendy Peters, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association, said some teachers who previously were disengaged had found their names removed from voter registration rolls. She said that teachers and school service personnel unions recently met to discuss voter registration.
"A lot of people say I'm pro-education, but we're talking about pro-public education and making sure folks know who those folks are that care about their health insurance and care about education," Peters said.
"There are some Republicans like Chris Toney is in the 31st district, from the House of Delegates," she added. "He’s a bus driver. It's not that we don't endorse Republicans. We do have some friends that are Republicans but for the most part they are Democrats."
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner recently led efforts to remove more than 100,000 names from voter rolls. In a phone interview Monday, Elections Director Donald Kersey said removal due to lack of voting is a six-year process and would involve notice. He did not have figures immediately available as to the number of people removed due to lack of voting.
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers - WV, had no data about names being removed from the rolls, but she also said that teachers who were previously uninterested have developed an interest in this election.
"Nobody’s pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes when it comes to what happened, how it happened," she said.
"The fact that you're putting propaganda out there, the only purpose that serves is to increase division among different groups of people," she said. "Why aren’t you working for all of the people you serve?"
The last day to register to vote is Tuesday.
Erin Timony, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, directed those with questions about voting to www.GoVoteWV.com. People can also check their registration at that website.
According to that website, people can also register online or in person at at the Secretary of State's Office, at their county clerk's office or at their local West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.
According to that website, to register you need: your name as it appears on your West Virginia driver's license or ID card, your date of birth, your West Virginia driver's license or ID card number, and your last four digits of your Social Security Number.
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner encourages citizens with questions to contact their county clerk or to call the WV Secretary of State Elections Division at (304) 558-6000, according to a news release. A listing of all county clerks can be found at https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Pages/CountyClerkDirectory.aspx.