BUCKHANNON – On a rainy November day, Cathy Kunkel sips coffee at Dough Re Mi and networks with local officials and anyone else who happens to walk in.
This isn’t the only time the Democratic candidate for West Virginia’s Second Congressional District will be in Buckhannon, she says. She’s already scheduled a meet-and-greet night at the Opportunity House for December and has another handful of visits planned in the new year.
As a political newcomer, knows she needs to get her boots on the ground as many places as possible.
As a member of the West Virginia Can’t Wait Movement, Kunkel says she’s pledged to run a grassroots campaign that puts power back in the hands of regular people and doesn’t accept funding from large corporations or PACs, political action committees. (Kunkel will, however, accept funding from large labor unions).
This is Kunkel’s first major political campaign, she says, having worked as an energy analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis based in Cleveland, Ohio.
A few of Kunkel’s main platforms are diversifying energy, advocating for a shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, calling for the development of broadband infrastructure in rural areas, and working to improve health care and increase resources to chip away at the addiction epidemic.
Kunkel, who will face off against incumbent Rep. Alex Mooney, R-2, in the general election in November is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket in the May 12 primary.
So, who is Cathy Kunkel?
A Charleston resident, she grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in West Virginia for nine years. Kunkel entered the political arena in early 2017 when she co-founded Rise Up West Virginia in Kanawha County, an organization that advocates for health care for all, quality public education, a livable wage and secure retirement income for all, its website says.
Kunkel said Rise Up wanted a candidate who would espouse their platform to run for office in the Second Congressional District. When no one else, stepped up, Kunkel did.
“We were hoping to have a congressional candidate that would espouse those values and platform points, and it didn’t seem like anyone else was jumping in, so I did,” she told My Buckhannon. So, she officially launched her campaign in September 2019.
“I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the lack of leadership around energy and economic transition in the state,” she said. “The coal industry has been financially declining for a while, and that was predicted 10 years ago, and we didn’t have a plan for how to help workers and communities and how to advocate to bring in federal resources for infrastructure investment and for economic transition, and so people are really hurting as a result of that.”
Kunkel said she sees the writing on the wall, when it comes to the decline of fossil fuels.
“I think over the coming decades we’re going to see our nation’s economy continue to shift away from fossil fuels because of climate change and because of the economics of renewable energy and it is becoming increasingly inexpensive,” she said. “We need to stop burying our heads in the sand around that.
“We’re seeing the impacts here (from climate change), and we know it’s going to get worse, and the longer we wait to deal with it, the worse it’s going to be,” Kunkel added. “We need to start preparing for that transition here in Appalachia, so a big part of my platform is about protecting workers and communities in terms of pensions and health care benefits that workers have earned that companies are trying to – and have been – trying to get rid of in bankruptcy processes.”
Kunkel said if elected to U.S. Congress, she’d also advocate for long-term federal resources to fight the addiction epidemic. One or two-year funding sources that aren’t sufficient as long-term investments in tackling addiction, she said.
“Funding comes in for a year or two years but you don’t know if it’s going to stick around, so it’s hard to build out programs, so one thing I’m looking at is this bill called the Care Act that would be a $100 billion over 10 years – across the country – but states like WV would get a big part of that to really make a sustained commitment,” Kunkel said. “It’s a very complicated problem, and it’s also, frankly, tied to our economic troubles in West Virginia too.”
Creating more jobs in the process is also critical.
“Creating jobs in places that are losing jobs and equally important, creating a foundation to bring in out-of-state businesses are some of my priorities,” she said. “It’s hard to expect people to stay in an area and create their own business or do something innovative if they don’t have access to the internet. It’s the 21st century.”
“There’s some real basic needs that we have here, and I think the rest of the country owes a debt to Appalachia for the coal and the gas that have powered our country for so long,” she continued.
The candidate says she plans to stick to “bread-and-butter” issues that affect people’s everyday lives and steer away from ones – like abortion and gun rights – that she says are designed to distract West Virginians from economic issues.
“I think we need to be honest with people about the fact that those issues have been deliberate political strategies that have been used to try to divide people and to keep their focus away from the bread-and-butter economic issues that really most affect people’s lives,” she said.
Kunkel said when she first came to West Virginia, she only anticipated staying about six months, but quickly fell for the state and its people.
“I really just like loved the people and loved the welcome that I received here,” she said. When she’s not campaigning, Kunkel said she’s an outdoors enthusiast and, in particular, enjoys winter camping – in a tent.
To learn more, visit www.kunkelforcongress.com.