For more than 25 years, Paul
has enjoyed a satisfying career as a journeyman inside wireman,
a member of
IBEW Local 317 in Huntington,
| Huntington, W.Va., Local 317 member Paul Ross is running for a seat in the state’s House of Delegates.
But troubling developments in how the electrical trades are taught in West Virginia’s public schools inspired the lifelong Salt Rock resident to take a stab at a part-time political career.
“In 2011, the state was trying to force the ABC curriculum into the schools,” said Ross, referring to the electrical apprentice training program offered by the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), the powerful and aggressively anti-union group of construction contractors. He is on West Virginia’s Tuesday, May 8 primary ballot as a candidate for the House of Delegates.
The state’s move hit close to home for Ross, who helped develop an electrical apprentice program at nearby Lincoln County High School, so he understands firsthand how valuable an IBEW-backed apprenticeship can be.
After giving it a great deal of thought, Ross decided in 2016 to run to represent his local district in the West Virginia House of Delegates and have his objections heard.
“I want to get on the House Education Committee,” he said of his political aspirations. There, he feels he would be in a better position to boost the value of IBEW’s superior joint apprenticeship training programs.
If the state wants to improve its efforts at workforce development, he said, “we need to stop teaching to the test and make sure every student really understands what is being taught.”
West Virginia’s Legislature meets in Charleston each year for 60 days, starting in early January. The House of Delegates is composed of 100 members who can serve an unlimited number of two-year terms, and all House seats are up for election every two years.
Ross lives in the 18th District, which covers roughly the central third of Cabell County, the state’s third most populous county, situated on the Ohio River where the Mountain State meets Ohio and Kentucky.
Although he wound up losing the 2016 primary, Ross still placed a respectable and encouraging second in a field of three Democrats.
That November, each of the state’s 55 counties went for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Its three members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Republican, as is half of its Senate delegation, and the state’s House of Delegates and Senate are both led by Republican majorities.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the 18th District delegate’s seat in 2016 went to a Republican, real estate agent Kelli Sobonya, who has served eight consecutive terms since 2002 but is not seeking reelection.
| An aspiring member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, Huntington, W.Va., Local 317’s Paul Ross hopes to boost IBEW’s joint apprenticeship training programs.
As cheered as Ross was by his showing two years ago, he recognizes that he faces “an uphill battle” running as a Democrat again this year. Further, his opponents in the May 8 primary bring to the ballot some local name recognition: former delegate Jerry Tighe and former Cabell County Board of Education member Karen Nance.
But recent electoral wins by progressive, underdog candidates in traditionally conservative areas — for example, Rep. Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama — show that, in politics, surprises can happen, even in 2018.
As for Ross’ reception on the campaign trail, “Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been pretty positive” he said.
In addition to his work on vocational education, Ross would like to see the state Legislature take a greater role in developing a more diversified state economy by providing financial incentives to in-state companies for hiring local workers and paying a livable wage.
“I feel we are on the wrong path,” he said. “Higher wages and requiring qualified state resident workers on all state-funded projects should be our focus. Low wages and out-of-state workers are a drain on revenues.”
Ross noted that his candidacy has been endorsed so far by the United Mine Workers of America and the West Virginia Education Association, and he has been favorably received by voter forums at local community centers and fire halls.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Evan Worrell, a consultant, on Nov. 6.