BUCKHANNON – A Buckhannon native is throwing her hat into the ring of the 2020 West Virginia Governor’s race.
But that hat won’t be a red or blue one.
Local attorney Erika Klie Kolenich will be running in the 2020 West Virginia governor’s election as a Libertarian. Kolenich graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 1997 and went to West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she majored in political science and dramatic arts and graduated in 2001.
“I left for a while and went to Akron Ohio, where I was in law school and graduated in 2001, and then I came back here and opened up my own practice,” Kolenich said.
She also met her husband, Karl, and they had a daughter named Iris, who graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School Friday.
Kolenich said she decided to run as a third-party candidate because she thinks the current two-party system hasn’t been working.
“I became a little bit a little bit disenchanted at the two-party system, especially nowadays, I feel like all that happens is the Republicans fight with the Democrats, and the Democrats fight with the Republicans,” Kolenich said. “I feel like the people that get lost in that fight are you, I and everybody else who’s just here, hoping that people in Charleston are doing their best to represent us. It’s become so political … there’s no compromise anymore.”
Kolenich said she recognized the problem with the two-party system when she was registered as an Independent party voter, which is now listed as unaffiliated.
“I was looking for a party that I felt fit my values, which was socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” Kolenich said. “I started looking around, and my husband is actually Libertarian and got involved with the party and then so did I. I just felt like their overall party platform and philosophy fit what I was looking for and how I felt.”
She said she decided to run for governor because she doesn’t want to see another career politician as governor.
“I feel like the only options that we are given for governor are really these career politicians who have either been born into a lot of money, or have always been politicians, and have never done anything else,” Kolenich said. “I started to see a little bit about what’s happening now with the governor, that he’s not really present.”
“He’s not really there, and I started spending a lot of time in Charleston, through my law practice, with the Legislature and saw what was going on down there and how decisions were being made,” she added. “I mean, there were folks down there who were being kicked out of committees and the caucuses for their own party if they didn’t do exactly what their party told them. So, we don’t really have people down there representing us at all.
“I just wanted to give people choice to be able to go vote for somebody who will represent the individuals of West Virginia and their interest as opposed to some party or some corporation or what someone’s telling [them] to do.”
She said some of her platforms that will come up during her campaign include less government involvement and protections for personal liberties.
“I think the main thing if you could sum up everything, I believe in protection of personal liberties and personal property,” Kolenich said. “Any time there’s an issue to analyze, or policy to analyze, I would always defer on, what protects personal liberties and property rights. So, for me, that means decriminalization of marijuana, that means less regulation and less government involvement overall in the everyday lives of West Virginians.”
She said the state needs to look at its resources and utilize them properly.
“I’m a big supporter of asset-based development,” Kolenich said. “I think that coal is not coming back. We can’t change the world market for coal. As much as we want to deregulate or change safety regulations, we can’t change what the international market for coal is.
“So, I think that West Virginia really needs to start focusing on the things that it has. We have beautiful landscapes, we have wonderful artists, we have some great small towns, and I think we need to start focusing on the things that we do have.”
Another change she said she would want to work on is retaining the state’s youth and curbing outmigration.
“We’re not going to get anywhere as long as half the people that graduate high school or college here leave,” Kolenich remarked. “West Virginia schools, in terms of higher education, have a great ability to recruit students from out of state.
“If we can keep only a fraction of those students here, in West Virginia to improve the work population, [that would help]. But we’re never going to be able to do that when the types of shenanigans that are going on down in Charleston continue to go on because it gives West Virginia bad name. So, I think asset-based development and youth retention are two of the big things that I’m a proponent of, and they will be a big part of my campaign platform.”
She said she thinks if she is given the chance, real change could happen in Charleston.
“There have been two parties in control for a very long time and despite whether or not the Democrats are in control, or the Republicans are in control, it’s really all the same, and we just float back and forth between the two of those,” Kolenich said. “Everybody says, ‘we need to change,’ but you’re never going to get that change as long as you keep going back and forth between those two parties.”
She said the current political milieu could be ideal for a third party.
“Not everybody’s views fit within those two parties,” Kolenich said. “I think if a lot of people were being honest with themselves, they’re not 100% Republican, they’re not 100% Democrat. That probably means that there’s room for not only Libertarians, but a lot of different third parties to enter mainstream politics.”
The Libertarian Party will conduct its own election process for candidates through a nominating convention in April 2020 where members of the party attend and will elect their candidate for governor.
“I think that I will think through the issues and make a decision based on what’s best for the folks in West Virginia as opposed to what’s best for individual groups, or individual industries, or individual corporations,” Kolenich said. “I think that that’s what West Virginia needs right now. I think that people really need to start to take a hard look at what’s going on in Charleston, and I think that I can be part of that change.”