Analysis Culture

Spotlight: Veteran Candidates — Richard Ojeda (WV-3)

This article is part of a series on veteran candidates for the House of Representatives in toss-up districts. Part One of the series can be found here.

This article should not be seen as an endorsement of any political candidate or party, and does not represent the views of The Freq Media.

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Southern West Virginia. Coal Country. Epicenter of the opioid crisis. West Virginia’s third congressional district, which gave an enormous 73% of the vote to President Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, is a Republican district. It wasn’t always that way. Democrats used to run West Virginia — the third district even voted for McGovern over Nixon in 1972 — and still hold an advantage in the number of registered voters. In a contentious 2018, where party lines are morphing and twisting, and incumbent Evan Jenkins (R) not seeking reelection, anything can happen in West Virginia. But what type of Democrat could actually win there?

The answer might be Richard Ojeda. A 24-year veteran of the Army, Ojeda is not your typical candidate. A straight-talking man known for his impassioned speeches and willingness to fight, Ojeda is often seen stomping around in combat boots and fatigues. In fact, that personality and background might be exactly what appeals to the Trump country voters in impoverished West Virginia.

Ojeda wielding a long-range rifle overseas.

Ojeda enlisted in the Army in 1988, claiming his only options were to “dig coal, sling dope, or join the Army”  becoming an engineer and serving in the only Airborne Engineer brigade in the world. Eventually, Ojeda commissioned as an Engineering Officer. Ojeda was given two commands at the company level, a significant accomplishment, deploying to Iraq in 2004. In 2007, he again deployed to Iraq as Chief of Operations for Theatre Engineers, overseeing all 7000 engineers in Iraq. Volunteering for a third tour, Major Ojeda deployed as a combat advisor with the 10th Mountain Division in 2010, advising over 1200 Afghan soldiers. Ojeda finished his career as a recruiter in West Virginia.

Ojeda was first exposed to the national spotlight in May 2016, where he was assaulted by a man with brass knuckle at a campaign rally. Nearly killed, Ojeda went on the win his district by 18 points – one that Trump carried by 59. Ojeda is no stranger to winning Republican votes. He continued to make a name for himself by supporting educators. He was the first West Virginia lawmaker to call attention to an impending teacher’s strike, one that saw 20,000 teachers walk out until receiving 5% pay raises. Ojeda was the voice for this campaign, one that gave rise to similar strikes in states across the nation. He continues to make education a key issue in his platform; teachers still form the core of his support.

Richard Ojeda – the populist Democrat running for office in WV-3.

His current campaign fits the bill of populism. His politics don’t conform to party lines, but his policies and views all point to what is good for the common American in his home district. The common West Virginian needs an advocate — the opioid crisis is rampant in his district, where millions of dollars in painkillers are shipped to towns of hundreds of people, and Ojeda has claimed there are families that are worse off than many he saw in Afghanistan. Ojeda is a Democrat to be sure, and supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, but gives Trump credit on some issues, and has stated that he will not vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker if Democrats regain the House in November.

Here is where Ojeda stands on issues important to West Virginians, from his campaign website:

Marijuana Legalization

Ojeda is seeking legalization and decriminalization of cannabis for medical and recreational reasons. He strongly believes that the availability of marijuana will be crucial to fighting the opioid addiction by taking the power from Big Pharma and giving it to the people. It can also be economically empowering, as West Virginia is an ideal growing area for marijuana.

Energy

Continuing his populist, party-crossing habits, Ojeda supports both renewable energy jobs and research and coal production — in his dream to once again crown West Virginia king of energy production. He supports President Trump’s efforts to revitalize the coal industry, and wants to see coal jobs protected, but fiercely protests what he calls Big Coal. He claims Trump’s protections only benefit the wealthy business owners, without affecting the lives of the poor workers in his district.

Education

Ojeda believes that public education is “the key to forming a healthy middle class” and wants to get public funding away from private institutions. He believes education should equally focus on STEM careers as well as skilled careers.

Immigration

Here, Ojeda’s policies fall more in line with the Democratic party. Ojeda supports immigration reform, including a permanent Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) solution and a clear path to citizenship for hard-working, law-abiding immigrants.

Healthcare

Ojeda doesn’t want to fix the Affordable Care Act. He doesn’t want to ‘repeal and replace’. Ojeda supports a public option – a government provided plan to complement the private market, designed to provide basic coverage at an affordable rate.

Ojeda may be the most interesting candidate in the 2018 midterms. His fiery personality and populist leanings make him comparable to Trump, while his Sanders-esque focus on progressive reforms to help the disenfranchised blue-collar workers in his district couldn’t distance him any further from the current administration. In an October poll, Ojeda trailed his opponent, Carol Miller (R), by just 5 points, with 13% of the vote still undecided. November 6th will tell the country if Trumpism’s most die-hard supporters want to stay the course, or think its time for a change.

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