candidacy for WV House
Surrounded by supporters on his 34th birthday, Stephen Baldwin announced his candidacy for the WV House of Delegates on Wednesday. Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister from Ronceverte. For the past four years, he also served as an elected member of the Greenbrier County Board of Education. His call to public service goes back to his childhood.
During his announcement speech he said, “My grandfather, Dr. Ernest Cobb, used to tell people I’d grow up to be a minister or a politician. As usual, he was right!” Baldwin sees public service as a part of his ministry. “It’s all about helping people.”
Speaking about the need for a high quality of life, he told supporters, “It’s time for a new generation of leadership in West Virginia.” West Virginia currently ranks 46th in the nation for quality of life, and Baldwin’s goal is for West Virginia to be in the Top 10 within 10 years. “We have the nicest people in the world, and this is ‘almost heaven.’ What we need is a better quality of life.”
Baldwin cited statistics about high overdose rates, short life spans, a lack of workers with college and technical degrees, and high child poverty rates. Beyond statistics, Baldwin believes we all know what our quality of life feels like. “It feels like waving goodbye to children and grandchildren who go away to college and don’t come back. Most of my classmates left West Virginia, and they haven’t returned because they can’t find good jobs.”
Baldwin’s solution is what he calls “human capital.” Economists use that term to indicate investments in people – education, health, infrastructure, and the environment. And he believes the key is education reform. “Education produces a domino effect in the economy. The only way we’ll ever have good jobs for citizens is when our citizens are prepared to contribute to the modern economy.” He argued that while we spend a large sum on education, over $11,000 per student in West Virginia, we spend it incorrectly. He believes we need fewer layers of state educational bureaucracy and more money for classrooms.
But issues weren’t the only hot topic of the announcement. Perhaps more interesting to voters is Baldwin’s campaign approach. Saying, “There’s too much money in politics,” he pledged to refuse all special interest money. While most candidates seeking seats in the House raise tens of thousands of dollars from political action committees, Baldwin said he would not accept a cent from them even if he agrees with their position.
The money he does spend on his campaign will be spent with local small businesses. Baldwin said he reads the campaign finance reports of legislators each year and is irritated that they talk about creating jobs but buy their campaign materials from the cheapest source, which is always out of state and sometimes out of the country. He challenged his opponents to join him in refusing special interest money and in buying locally.
The announcement was held at the Organ Cave Community Center, which used to be the community’s school. Baldwin said he believes the community-school model of education is part of our future. “Consolidation of our community schools hasn’t lived up to its promises.”
The Organ Cave Community Center now serves as a meeting place for scouts, a giveaway center for food and supplies, and a venue for events. Baldwin began a mission program at his church that helped revitalize the center over the past two summers. His church hosts volunteer group, who stay for one week and provide free home repairs to struggling families throughout the Greenbrier Valley. They also do onsite work at local agencies – Child and Youth Advocacy Center, Children’s Home Society, Davis-Stuart, Family Refuge Center, Oakhurst Outreach, and Wellspring of Greenbrier. In total, Baldwin’s church welcomed 14 groups last year. They expect another full slate this year, beginning in February.
Before serving as minister of the Ronceverte Presbyterian Church, Baldwin received a bachelor’s degree from Queens College and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. He has worked in public service for Democrats and Republicans, including the Washington office of Senator Jay Rockefeller.
The primary election is scheduled for May 10, 2015. Baldwin is currently the only Democrat in the race. Two Republican incumbents are expected to seek another term. The general election is scheduled for November 8, 2016. For more information, visit BaldwinforWV.com or find the campaign on Twitter or Facebook.