Richard Ojeda, the fiery state senator of West Virginia and a retired U.S. Army major, recently announced his campaign for the presidency. Working alongside progressive organizations Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, his 2018 mid-term race saw the man close a 35-point lead in a district which overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. He eventually joined the president’s voting bloc once Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) lost the Democratic primary to Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the candidate which Ojeda labelled a “corporatist” who represented lobbyists over the working class of America. His campaign seeks to overturn the party’s legacy of corporatist apologia.
In his recent interview for The Young Turks, progressive host Cenk Uygur questioned his politically-aligned guest on his policy positions regarding climate change, abortion, environmental protection, whether to invest in coal or new “green technology,” the wide array of issues rooted in leftist beliefs. Underlying this discussion, however, was an unravelling of why the modern Democratic Party has failed to please its voters, which turned the conversation on the swamp of Washington corruption, infested with the obstructionist monsters of lobbyists and nefarious politicians willing to play ball. To this end, Ojeda offered political solutions to drain this swamp.
Under the Ojeda administration, the law would require members of Congress to donate their net wealth beyond the threshold of a few millions of dollars before taking public office in an effort to discourage tax cuts outside the brackets of the average citizenry. In return, retired members of Congress would receive an annual pension of $130,000 per year with the ability to earn over $250,000 through additional work. Every dollar above this threshold would either be taxed or donated to a cause of the individual’s choice.
In addition, these laws would require lobbying associates and nefarious politicians, which he describes as “the absolute scum of the earth,” to wear body cameras during their negotiations. This is all rather fitting since, as we’ve discussed in the past, the work of a politician doesn’t just stop at rosters from 9–5, but has consequences from the moment you enter office, sign laws, transfer the right funds and start your revolving door career into becoming a lobbyist. For the corrupt, politics and life are inseparable, even if their policies infringe on the lives of others, requiring the oversight of the public to ensure legitimate practice.
“When you get into politics,” Ojeda told the program, “that’s supposed to be a life of service, but that’s not what it’s been. You know, a person goes into politics, they win a seat in Congress or the Senate, and it’s a $174,000 [salary], but yet two years later, they’re worth $30 million, and that’s one of the problems that we have in society today. That’s how come no one trusts — or has very much respect for — politicians.”
“Our servicemen that are in the military right now, staff sergeants in the United States Army out there in harm’s way, qualify for food stamps, but they truly live a life of selfless service,” he continued. “Where I come from, the average family income is $44,000. So to me, this right here is something that everybody can relate to. We’re sick and tired of watching people that say that they’re going to fight for the people and run for office, but in reality they get in there and all they do is increase their wealth and power.”
This echoes the rhetoric of President Trump who often framed himself as an anti-lobbyist character during the campaign, though no policies have been proposed outside of his forgotten 5-point list. Ojeda took a shot at the president for this facade of the billionaire of the people.
“It’s been a friggin’ circus for a solid year,” Ojeda told Politico magazine. “All he’s done … is shown that he’s taking care of the daggone people he’s supposed to be getting rid of. The filthy rich convinced the dirt poor [that] the filthy rich are the ones who care. We need someone in Washington, D.C., who’s going to be a voice for these people. “I will not take the corporate money. I don’t want it.”
Ojeda’s grassroots support among progressives stems from his history working alongside the West Virginia’s teachers strikes, which shot the man up to national attention as the Democrats’ new “JFK with tattoos and a bench press.” His activist efforts eventually resulted in these teachers union successfully winning their 5 percent pay raises in March. “We are sitting on a powder keg,” Ojeda argued during a Senate speech in January. “If you think teachers across this state are not saying the s-word (strike), you are wrong.”
For context, Ojeda blasted about how the state’s lawmakers proposed a mere 1 percent raise to these teachers wages while the reigning Superintendent Steven L. Paine makes over $230,000 per year. Ojeda’s advocated bills, according to Vox, included teacher tax breaks for buying classroom supplies; stabilized health care premiums for public employees and a $5,000 increase over three years, though none came to pass.
These efforts do, however, demonstrate policy commitments to the working class that go beyond the standard politics of rallying cries across crowds, countering the unsubstantive excitement generated among the right-wing base (as progressives, ironically, seek facts over feelings). Hence why Ojeda, when faced with the lesser of two evils, was more persuaded by the president’s 5-point plan as Clinton kept the issue unnamed.
“I have been a Democrat ever since I registered to vote, and I’ll stay a Democrat, but that’s because of what the Democratic Party was supposed to be,” Ojeda later told The Intercept. “The reason why the Democratic Party fell from grace is because they become nothing more than elitist. That was it. Goldman Sachs, that’s who they were. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party that fights for the working class, and that’s exactly what I do. I will stand with unions wholeheartedly, and that’s the problem: the Democratic Party wants to say that, but their actions do not mirror that.”