By Stephen Smoot
Last week, Pendleton County voters chose change at both the local and state levels. Elias Coop-Gonzalez, a Republican from Elkins, won the race for the 67th delegate district. This district covers eastern Randolph County as far west as Elkins and western Pendleton County as far east as Franklin.
“My first issue is life,” Coop-Gonzalez explained. “This is the issue in our state and country that is most dear to me.” According to his campaign website, that conviction comes from his deep Christian faith. West Virginia pro life candidates experienced none of the headwinds felt in a few other states by those opposed to abortion.
Much like current State Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Rucker, Coop-Gonzalez spent many of his early years living under an oppressive regime before coming to the United States. Coop-Gonzalez was born in Guatemala, moved to West Virginia at the age of 13, and became a naturalized citizen. He explains that his background drives his commitment because “I have experience living in a country that is corrupt and tyrannical.”
He also worked for the Arlington based educational foundation Leadership Institute, as well as Congressman Alex Mooney.
Coop-Gonzalez, when he assumes office, will be the youngest serving member of the State Legislature. He joins a steady stream of young people, such as Saira Blair of Berkeley County, Michael Ihle from Jackson County, and Joshua Higginbotham from Lincoln County, earning victories in state delegate races over the past decade.
He also will work on building a sense of community participation among young people. A lot of young people no longer think that they can impact their community, Coop-Gonzalez states. He added that it’s important to get those young people involved.
The campaign may have kick started that goal of getting the younger generation more engaged. He explained that for much of the campaign, his biggest Facebook engagement numbers were primarily middle-aged women. Typically, this group is one of those most engaged in politics and related issues. “About three or four weeks before the election,” Coop-Gonzalez said, “my biggest demographic was young men.”
Beyond these goals, Coop-Gonzalez described his immediate plans to help “run legislation that the Governor is putting forward in January,” but described the vital “need to work out a good deal.” He also vowed to work to “revamp our tax system, which is really archaic and long overdue to be changed.”
Finally, Coop-Gonzalez shared his fundamental principles. As someone who commenced studying the Constitution at 15, he said, “I am a firm believer in the Constitution and the principles that our Constitution is founded upon.” He added, “When it comes to being a legislator, one must adhere to the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of the state. I see some legislators that swear that oath, but some don’t care, or haven’t read the Constitution. I stand firmly for the Constitution of the United States and our state.”
Overall, Republicans won supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. Republicans control 88 of the 100 districts in the House of Delegates and 30 of 34 seats in the State Senate. Supermajorities can override vetoes from the Governor and suspend chamber rules.
The next State Legislature official session begins on Jan. 11, 2023.