On Jan. 25, only a couple of days after the Eastern Panhandle was buried under 40+ inches of snow, my wife Vaida and I dug out our Jeep and took perhaps the slowest drive I'll ever make from Charles Town to Charleston. We arrived in the West Virginia capital around 2:30 am, and come morning spent the day circulating between events and gatherings on broadband, local food, and the environment.
At the end of the day, I officially filed my certificate of candidacy (right) with the Office of the West Virginia Secretary of State. If elected as your State Senator I have an ambitious agenda to tackle the biggest issues facing West Virginia – poverty and unemployment, poor health and substance abuse, environmental degradation, and population loss, just to name a few. But I'd like to take a moment to tell you more about my history and what lead me to this next step on my path of public service.
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I was born in the mountains of western Maryland – the beautiful, rugged, and very conservative part of the state that Annapolis often forgets about. In the early 2000s my mother's job at the local community college was phased out and my father, a recently ordained minister, was called to the Burnham Church of the Brethren in an old steel mill town in central Pennsylvania. I was homeschooled through age 17 and moved several more times around Pennsylvania and Maryland before I became a full-time student at Garrett College .
By the time I transferred to Bucknell University on a full-ride scholarship, I had met the woman who would become my wife. "Small talk" on our first date consisted of discussing wind energy in Appalachia and the Soviet occupation of her home county in Eastern Europe. She was accepted to study Political Science at West Virginia University while I went on to complete my B.A. in Geography and Environmental Science.
In 2011, upon graduation and after a few bumps in the road, I came back to the mountains near my birthplace to serve as an AmeriCorps Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) with the Friends of the Cheat in Preston County. Vaida and I lived in Morgantown while I spent my days searching for pollution from abandoned coal mines, writing grants, and organizing environmental education opportunities. I saw firsthand the devastation left behind when natural resource extraction booms go bust, and learned how thriving tourism collapsed after a mine blowout in the early 1990's. During my time as a VISTA I also met several remarkable public figures who came to West Virginia to serve – and stayed to make a difference.
Senator Jay Rockefeller was one such individual, who in 1964, also came to the Mountain State as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I had the pleasure of meeting the Senator at a field hearing in Fairmont in 2012, and his legacy of service has been a profound inspiration to me. Another inspiration and notable transplant is the Honorable Dr. Ken Hechler – the oldest living person to have served in the U.S Congress, the only member of Congress to march on Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., former WV Secretary of State, and many other notable accomplishments. Vaida and I had the privilege to sit with him on several occasions to talk about politics and West Virginia, but the most remarkable thing about him is his humility. He was never a politician, always a public servant.
Since 2012 I have worked as the communications director for SkyTruth, a Shepherdstown-based non-profit harnessing the power of satellite imagery and big data to measure and report on major conservation issues in WV and around the world. My life so far has been defined by the communities I have lived in around Appalachia and the people I have met along the way.
My vision for West Virginia draws on the best of our region, with a deep knowledge of the problems facing the state as a whole. Constituents far from their Capitol often complain that the legislature doesn't understand their needs or listen to their concerns. I submit to you that is exactly why you should send someone to Charleston who understand the needs and issues facing all of West Virginia.
I am running because our state is gripped with a public health crisis of epidemic proportions, and we need to unite our communities around fighting the scourge of substance abuse and unhealthy environments.
I am running because I know the Mountain State could be a haven for tourism, arts, and agriculture –but not while rivers run orange with mine waste and our digital connection to the global marketplace is nonexistent or barely functional.
I am running because after decades of talk, partisan rhetoric, and "business as usual", we are still scratching in the dust when we should be reaching for the heavens.
I am Appalachian by birth, but a Mountaineer by choice.