MORGANTOWN — Like many Americans, Kendra Fershee said the 2016 Presidential Election was the catalyst that spurred her to action.
Instead of wallowing in anger, the mother of two, WVU Law professor and former associate dean of academic affairs entered the Democratic primary for West Virginia’s 1st congressional district, where she pulled what many considered an upset of Ralph Baxter despite a dramatic fundraising disadvantage.
Now she has her sights set on incumbent Republican David McKinley, West Virginia’s representative since 2011.
Fershee sat down with members of The Dominion Post Editorial Board on Tuesday to discuss a wide range of topics, including her reaction to the historic 2016 election.
“That woke me up. It made me think we need some, sort of, regular folks running for office. I still didn’t think that would be me, but I heard from a lot of folks encouraging me to consider it. At some point I realized, if not me, who, and if not now, when. So I threw my hat in the ring.”
She said her professional endeavors have revealed a knack for bringing people together, something that is badly needed in today’s hostile political environment.
“I think what we’re seeing right now is an emphasis on anger. People’s anxiety is translating into anger and that is not moving us forward. We are wallowing in anger and it only makes us more divided. It makes us manipulatable and it makes us weak,” Fershee said, later adding. “We need to bring the parties to the table who start conversations and who don’t throw bombs.”
Fershee admits her legislative priorities — health care, jobs, education — aren’t exciting or new, but she believes access to these things will give people the freedom to pursue the lives they want.
“My concern about West Virginia right now is that we are not living free. We are not free to live how we want to live in West Virginia,” Fershee said, noting “You can’t live free if you don’t have health care … You’re not living free if your kids and your grandkids are not educated.”
A proponent of universal health care, Fershee said there are a number of things she would change about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She credits the ACA with providing coverage for “a couple hundred thousand” West Virginians, but said it doesn’t go far enough, explaining “We need to decouple health care and employment.”
Fershee went on to say there are too many interests spending too much money on politics, often with the goal of shutting down conversation. She points to the recent gun control debate and the influence of the National Rifle Association as an example.
“The NRA has a lot of power in Washington and I think it’s too much power. When we can’t have a conversation … When our elected officials won’t even entertain a conversation about how we might keep people safe across the country, that’s an indication that some of our interested parties are too powerful,” she said.
The balance between economic development and environmental protections is another area in which Fershee believes a false narrative has been advanced and largely accepted. She noted the recent United Nations Climate Report predicting catastrophic results from climate change as early as 2040.
“I don’t think we have to choose between the environment and good jobs,” Fershee said. “We can be a leader in clean energy. We can be a leader in bringing in business for solar, for wind, for other sources of energy that could be manufactured here. We have been a leader in energy since the beginning of the state.”
When asked if having women fill more than 18 percent of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives would result in more cooperation and compromise, Fershee said she doesn’t necessarily believe that’s the case, though she believes we will see more balanced representation in the future.
“I don’t think women are magical unicorns. I don’t think we show up with some special ability to do things better than things have been done, but I do think we show up with the special ability to do things differently than things have been done,” she said.
“We need people who are representative of our communities in Congress. Right now, Congress is overwhelming male, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly wealthy and overwhelmingly over the age of 50. That’s not representative of our communities.”
Fershee said she recalls press reports claiming she couldn’t defeat Baxter in the primary despite her message and credentials. She said she expects to hear something similar in her contest with McKinley.
“I think that indicates something bigger than me is happening right now,” she said. “I’m glad I decided to run because I think we’re going to see another surprise in November.”
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