MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Recently released U.S. Census Data indicates that West Virginia had a decline of nearly 65,000 residents in the last decade and the Mountain State will lose one U.S. House congressional seat as a result.
This means West Virginia will now have two house seats, as well as two U.S. Senate seats. Despite this fact, West Virginia University Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, John Kilwein, said the impact will be minimal.
I really don’t think it’s going to be that significant. I mean we go from a small state to a smaller state in terms of the electoral college, from five seats to four seats. So, it’s not that dramatic. I think more dramatic in terms of our lack of impact on the national election for president is how much West Virginia has moved to a deep red state. And so I think that has more of a role to play when it comes to West Virginia being ignored for presidential elections. Both parties are pretty confident that West Virginia is in the republican party’s pocket.John Kilwein – Chair & Associate Professor of Political Science
Part of the reason the loss of a house seat “isn’t that big of a deal”, Kilwein said, is because the electorate and the populace were expecting the population decline. In fact, West Virginia is the only state in the nation that has seen population declines in the last 20 years.
The legislature, Kilwein said, was, definitely, aware of this fact and have tried different strategies to mitigate the population loss. Recent efforts include the governor’s efforts to repeal the state’s income tax.
That plan and many others have, clearly, not worked to stop the population hemorrhage. But, on the bright side, Kilwein said there is only so far West Virginia can fall.
“There is a floor, so if we lose one more seat, that’s all we can lose,” he said. “You have to have one house seat and, obviously constitutionally, you have to have two senators. The furthest we can drop is to three. I think on the flip side, Gov. Justice and the state legislative republicans talked about this, that was their logic for the income tax elimination, it’s you can make an effort to bring people back into West Virginia. But I think the best-case scenario there will be keeping our two remaining seats.”
At this point in time, West Virginia should not be sulking over its continuous population decline or its lost house seat, but instead, it should take pride in the spotlight on the state.
This, Kilwein said, comes as a result of Gov. Justice’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently Sen. Joe Manchin’s prominence in an equally split senate.
“Everybody nationally is talking about West Virginia because of Joe Manchin,” Kilwein said. “That has nothing to do with our population. It has nothing to do with our policy impact. It has nothing to do with our impact on presidential elections. It has everything to do with the accident of a 50/50 senate and Joe Manchin and his colleague from Arizona being in the middle.”
The question then remains, if the state’s population is declining and it’s heading for the bottom, in terms of the minimum number of congressional seats, then what should West Virginia do?
Kilwein has a few suggestions.
First, he said, a perspective change may be necessary.
“The state legislature, to me, did a couple of counterintuitive things,” he said. “With a Republican supermajority, they focused on hot button kind of political issues like trans athletes and charter schools. Those were not the two most pressing issues that the state had to deal with.”
Addressing those issues, he said, will not attract people to west Virginia. In some cases, like in the case of the trans athletes bill, it even hurts the state’s overall image.
“I don’t think those are the types of things that are going to attract people from D.C. or Virginia, or Maryland, or Pennsylvania, or even Ohio to cross the border,” he said.
Kilwein said West Virginia Republicans have only had a supermajority for one legislative session and may have needed to work out the kinks before becoming an effective legislature that can entice more people to stay in and move to the Mountain State.
Only time will tell if that is the case. But in the meantime, Kilwein suggests the public focuses on how the new census data will help redraw congressional districts in West Virginia.
“The other thing I think is really important is how the republicans carve up the state for the two remaining house districts and also how they carve up the state for statehouse seats and state senate seats,” Kilwein said. “I think those are are the heavy-duty political questions that come about. But in terms of the state, what can it do is figure out how to move from an industrial society to a post industrialist society that can appeal to young, creative people that want to live in a cool place.”
“And West Virginia could be a cool place when you think about young people and outdoors and what we offer. But you have to appeal to people and it’s not going to be by pushing these right-wing hot button issues.”