MT. NEBO – When Greg Boso resigned from his post in September 2019 as one of two senators representing the largest senatorial district in West Virginia, lifelong Nicholas County resident John Pitsenbarger tossed his hat in the ring.
He was far from certain he’d be selected to represent the sprawling 11th Senatorial District, comprised of his home county of Nicholas, along with Upshur, Randolph, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Webster and part of Grant counties.
Although Pitsenbarger – who goes by J.R. – was ultimately the man Gov. Jim Justice tapped to take the place of Boso, he recalls feeling pleasantly surprised when he got the call to interview with Justice for the seat.
“I had signed up for the process, but when I actually got the call to meet with the governor, I was surprised,” Pitsenbarger, a fifth-generation farmer, told My Buckhannon during a recent interview. “It’s hard to get to the title of senator.”
Justice announced in October 2019 that Pitsenbarger, a Republican, would serve out the unexpired term.
For Pitsenbarger, getting acclimated to his new post was analogous to baptism by fire.
“My first days of work were a special session that was called in November, so I had to learn the process quickly,” he said. “I had fortunately been familiar with parliamentary procedure.”
“Government is not a fast process,” he added with a laugh, “but it’s an important process, and it does work.”
So far, Pitsenbarger seems to be enjoying that process; he recently filed to run for the seat in this year’s election.
So, who is Sen. J.R. Pitsenbarger? In an effort to introduce himself to voters, he spoke to My Buckhannon from the part of his Nicholas County farm where cellphone service is relatively reliable.
Pitsenbarger and his wife, Tanya, live on Pitsenbarger’s family farm in Mt. Nebo, a rural section of Nicholas County near Nallen.
“I run the farm and it’s been in my family since 1858 – before West Virginia was a state,” he said.
A cattle and hay farmer, the senator also spent a 32-year stint in radio, mostly on a station no longer in existence known as WCWV out of Summersville owned by Summit Media.
“I started out in high school, and I’ve done all aspects of radio,” he said. “I’ve had other jobs, and I’ve served on the West Virginia Farm Bureau board as vice president of that, and I’ve been a conservation district supervisor.”
When Boso announced his resignation, Pitsenbarger saw an opportunity to better the state he’s loved his whole life.
“I’ve always had an interest in making the state a better place to live and work and play, and I love to enjoy the recreational opportunities here, too. It’s a great place to be,” he said.
Pitsenbarger says he enjoys leisurely drives through scenic counties – mostly in Senatorial District 11 – like Pocahontas, Pendleton and Grant, and in autumn and tries to visit state parks as frequently as possible.
Although picturesque, the Mountain State has plenty of problems, too, and the senator plans to focus on fixing the foster care system; improving or rebuilding infrastructure, which encompasses both roadways and broadband internet; and enhancing resources for senior citizens.
Pitsenbarger believes fathers and grandparents should have more custodial rights, which could benefit kids in foster care, he added.
The senator is currently serving as vice chair of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Senate.
“Agriculture is not just about farming,” he said. “Agriculture is about other real issues, too. We need to make sure we have good food sources in rural areas, whether that’s farm-to-table food or food brought into grocery stores in areas that are food deserts. We need to build better roads. We need better infrastructure, and we need to create a business-friendly climate, so businesses are happy to be here.”
Broadband internet – or lack thereof – is another a predicament Pitsenbarger wants to zero in on.
“That’s a big issue not only for businesses, but also for people’s everyday lives,” he said.
Also at the top of his to-do list? Addressing the isolation and loneliness that plagues many senior citizens who can’t get out in their communities consistently.
“I’m concerned about seniors in our state,” he said. “Many of them don’t see another person on a regular basis, so we need to make sure we are funding senior centers which provide meals and company for people. We need to make sure they’re taken care of as well as our young people.”
Pitsenbarger said he’s still learning his way around the Capitol building and the ins and outs of Robert’s Rules of Order – he’d primarily been familiar with Jefferson’s Rules prior to being appointed to the Senate.
“I was getting lost a little bit at first,” he said with a chuckle, “but there is a great staff at the Capitol that works to help senators and delegates.”
Pitsenbarger said his door is always open and he’s looking forward to getting to know his constituents.
“Call, email, stop by,” he said. “I would love to see my constituents. I’ve found that although many of us as West Virginians face similar issues, there are issues that are particular to certain regions or areas. Their issues are my issues, and after the session, I’ll be out talking to people at events and out in public more, so hopefully people will come out and meet me.”
Write Pitsenbarger at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him by phone at 304-357-7973.