CHARLES TOWN – A progressive Democrat and green energy expert from Charleston is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, running for his fourth term, to serve in the 2nd Congressional District seat for West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Cathy Kunkel’s campaign for 2020 is her first bid for public office. “I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the lack of political leadership around the energy and economic transition that our state is undergoing,” she said. “The coal industry has been in financial decline for a long time and we needed a plan around that.”
Advocating a liberal policy platform in contrast to Mooney’s conservative track record, Kunkel supports universal government health care and greater taxation of corporations. Fighting the political power of corporations is a top public policy priority for her. She also supports improving education and drug addiction services in West Virginia.
Part of the West Virginia Can’t Wait coalition of progressive state and municipal candidates aligned with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith, Kunkel has pledged not to accept corporate campaign funds and support pro-labor positions.
“There needs to be a greater commitment to labor standards and making it easier — not harder for people to join unions,” she offered.
For the past nine years, Kunkel, a Princeton University graduate who earned a doctorate degree in energy policy from the University of California-Berkeley, has been an analyst for renewable energy projects across West Virginia. She has worked to defend consumer interests in renewable energy projects before the West Virginia Public Service Commission. She also assisted with developing safer water systems for the Kanawha Valley after the water contamination crisis from the Freedom Industries chemical spill there in 2014.
Competition from out-of-state natural gas producers and increasing renewable energy options is jeopardizing the future of West Virginia’s coal extraction industry, Kunkel said. Cutting regulations governing the coal industry won’t save the coal industry over the long term, she said. West Virginia should move quickly to develop its considerable hydro-electric, solar, geothermal and wind energy resources as future viable industries that will create jobs and a growing economy for its residents.
Kunkel said federal tax incentives for the solar industry are about to expire, which she is in support of Congress renewing.
Kunkel feels that increased government spending is needed to develop more broadband infrastructure to support high-speed internet access, which she points out, is an economic development imperative throughout the Mountain State.
“It’s sort of like electrification in the 30s,” she said. “The rural areas didn’t really happen without government investment.”
Kunkel highlighted Hardy County as a success model, where a community telephone cooperative obtained federal grants that funded fiber optic cable connections to the area’s homes. The county has fast and reliable internet access to support its local economy, she said.
“To me, our problems are more about very rich and powerful people who have rigged our political system to work for them and generally not well for the rest of us, regardless of political affiliation or party affiliations,” she said. “We should have the biggest wealthiest actors in our society paying taxes, and if we do that, we should be able to cut some other folks a break.”
Pointing out that tax laws allow giant corporations like Amazon to eliminate their tax bills, Kunkel said she supports closing corporate tax loopholes. She also supports establishing new taxes on Wall Street financial transactions.
If more corporations began paying a fair share of tax, she said, “we could pay for a lot of the things that folks have been talking about in terms of canceling student debt universal childcare, greater funding for addiction crisis and that kind of thing.”
Supporting Bernie Sanders’ approach to health care policy, Kunkel said health care costs far more per person in the United States than in any other industrialized country. Adopting a universal public government-directed health care system would help control medical costs while expanding access to all Americans.
Providing more federal funding for public education would be another priority, she said.
A staunch supporter of President Trump’s administration efforts, Mooney has defended the president during the Democratic-led impeachment process. Kunkel said she hopes any impeachment process would be over and decided before voters go to the poll to vote in the 2020 elections. However, she said she would vote to impeach the president if she were in the House of Representatives.
“I think the president has committed impeachable offenses, and I also think it’s unfortunate that his conduct has led to this situation where Congress will be spending valuable time on impeachment instead of dealing with health care, climate change and other urgent crises that we need to be solving,” she stated.
Raised in Howard County, Md., Kunkel, 34, has campaigned in the Eastern Panhandle several times this fall and spent the past week visiting supporters and attending forums in Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle.
Her campaign is still mobilizing volunteers to inform Panhandle voters about her candidacy, she said. She acknowledged the uphill challenge of campaigning against a three-term incumbent in a congressional district spanning 16 counties across the mid-belt of West Virginia.
Mooney won re-election in 2018 to the 2nd Congressional District by capturing nearly 110,504 votes, or 54 percent of the votes cast. The district represents about 650,000 people from Martinsburg to Charleston.
As of Dec. 31, Kunkel’s campaign had raised $126,868 in campaign contributions, nearly all from individuals, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Mooney’s re-election campaign for 2020 had raised $761,690 to total campaign contributions as of Dec. 31, federal election records show.
“I would just encourage people who voted for Mooney to really look at what issues are important to them and what has Mooney done on those issues,” she said. “And for a lot of issues that a lot of people clearly care about, like health care and public education, I have not seen Mooney do much of anything that is constructive on those issues.”