By Stephen Smoot
In 2022, Elias Coop-Gonzalez chose to tackle the challenge of running against an established incumbent for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. After a spirited and sometimes contentious race, the young immigrant from Guatemala rose to it, won his race, and earned his seat.
For those elected to office when the campaign ends, the real work begins.
The 21-year-old college student represents northern and western Pendleton County, as well as the eastern parts of Randolph. He earned selection to the committees on banking and insurance, energy and manufacturing, political subdivisions, and veterans affairs and homeland security.
Mark Scott, former Randolph County commissioner and current Cabinet Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Administration noted that “what struck me most about Elias’s first term is how seriously he approached being a delegate.”
The best state legislators rely heavily on principle to guide their actions. Delegate Coop-Gonzalez ran on three “c’s,” Christianity, conservatism, and the Constitution. He said that “To my . . . constituents, I cannot implore you enough to become well-versed in the Constitution. If citizens are aware of their God-given rights, it is much harder for avaricious politicians to take them away.”
Lack of a thorough knowledge of the Constitution remains a challenge for many, he shared, saying that “It was . . . surprising that not many people in office knew much about the Constitution. While legislating, the Constitution was the sole document I referred to when voting.”
Coop-Gonzalez had a list of issues on which he planned to work going into the session, including defense of life, freedom of speech, property rights, supporting first responders, religious freedom, and more.
Going into the session in January, “I expected to be very busy and make very challenging decisions.” Some of those included working on policy issues of local concern, such as supporting “every bill which helped fund fire departments.” Here he encountered one of the discouraging aspects of public service, working hard on issues that do not get enough support elsewhere. Coop-Gonzalez explained “the Legislature was too busy giving financial incentives to casinos and subsidizing Bill Gates backed batter companies.”
“When you consider his age,” Scott said, “his understanding of issues and legislation really amazed me.”
He did succeed in helping to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act, “statutorily reinforcing our state’s pro-life laws,” and “killing eminent domain laws which violated the Constitution.”
A mandatory measure for any incoming state legislator lies in creating a network of others who can guide and help. Coop-Gonzalez shared that he worked most closely with people who “are relentlessly patriotic and of the highest moral character, including Geoff Foster, Pat McGeehan, and Laura Kimble.”
He also worked well with fellow Pendleton County delegate Bryan Ward. Ward said of Coop-Gonzalez, “Coop is wise beyond his years because he is a great listener.” He added that Coop-Gonzalez spoke little on the floor, as is customary for most freshman delegates, but “when he does, folks listen.” Pendleton County Commissioner Roger Dahmer added that he appreciated Coop-Gonzalez trying to pass legislation that the county supported.
Despite what seems like a relatively short window in which to do business, Coop-Gonzalez learned that law making follows its own process that not only goes step by step, but takes twists and turns as well. “Don’t get too caught in the moment. It’s a long game,” he stated.
As with everything else, however, every issue goes back to the Constitution. “Next time a candidate asks us for our vote, we should ask them how much they know about the Constitution. If they can’t answer that question, it is time to find a better candidate. If there isn’t a better candidate, then it is time to be that candidate.”
He added, “Our country has steered away from its roots, but it is possible to save her if we guide her back to them. Duty is ours. Results are God’s.”