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For the first time in my lifetime, Democrats are a super minority in both the State Senate and the House of Delegates. It might seem to outsiders that we are more divided than ever. But that does not have to be the case. Republicans and Democrats might have different ideas on how to get there, but we have the same goal in mind: a stronger, healthier West Virginia. Our caucus platform for the 2021 legislative session is focused on just that — putting West Virginians first by creating opportunities for all West Virginians to stay, rebuild and succeed here.

West Virginia Democrats stand for every West Virginian — our neighbors who lost their jobs and are trying to navigate the state unemployment process; the businesses and restaurants trying to keep all of their employees working while their businesses are at reduced capacity; the public school students who do not have access to the internet at home to do their schoolwork on virtual learning days; our health care and front-line workers and first responders who are overworked and tired but still showing up for work every day; and the parents who are struggling to work, teach at home and ensure their children are thriving in the middle of a global health pandemic. This has not been an easy year for anyone, but West Virginians are resilient people. It is time, now more than ever, to put the people of West Virginia and our shared values first. The Legislature should do all we can to support each other as our state recovers.

We want to reverse the outward migration trend by supporting policies that are good for our state and her people, policies and programs that will help people stay here. We need to champion policies that give our residents a reason to stay here and give those who left a reason to come back home. Those policies included enhanced Promise scholarships for STEM students, revitalization programs for struggling coal communities and student loan forgiveness and new tax credits for the people we need to keep here in West Virginia: our college graduates, our health care workers, our teachers and our seniors.

Democrats plan to champion policies to rebuild and strengthen our communities. We know as West Virginians that strong communities are vital in recovery from whatever catastrophe that our state is facing, from the drug epidemic to the natural disasters that we seem to see every year. Just as they are after massive floods or snowstorms, strong communities will be vital as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need to improve our infrastructure to ensure all West Virginians have access to affordable broadband, safe roads, clean water and health care resources in their communities. West Virginia Democrats pledge to support COVID-19 testing and vaccination infrastructure, small businesses and entrepreneurs affected by the pandemic and efforts to improve the unemployment compensation process.

We as a state need to continue to support, protect and stand up for our law enforcement, local public health agencies, emergency responders and front-line workers. As we have seen this past year, we heavily rely on these individuals, and we need to make sure their voices are heard and they are allowed to participate in the legislative process.

The Legislature needs to provide our communities and our people with the resources they need to succeed here in West Virginia. The Legislature should pass nondiscrimination legislation and the Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan Fair Pay Act. Helping West Virginians succeed means we also need to keep an open mind and look at polices to reduce, not shift, the tax burdens for our residents. We as legislators must make it a priority to create opportunities for minority communities, women, small businesses owners, families and individuals reentering society. Strong, healthy communities and businesses will help all West Virginians prosper.

West Virginia Democrats pledge to support policies — regardless of which party champions them — that create opportunities for all West Virginians to stay, rebuild and succeed here. On every vote that we take, our caucus members plan to ask two questions: How does this help West Virginians? Whom does it hurt?

I believe now, more than ever, is the time to put party politics aside and join together to support policies to move West Virginia forward. It is time to make West Virginians our top priority. We as legislators need to do all we can to help West Virginians stay here, rebuild here and succeed here because this is their home.

Del. Doug Skaff Jr., D-Kanawha, is the House minority leader and president of HD Media. Contact him at 304-340-3240 or by emailing doug.skaff@wvhouse.gov.

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