Teacher beats West Virginia Senate president after protests

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia teachers whose protests sparked a national wave of unrest took to chanting “Ditch Mitch” as they descended on the Capitol.

Ditch him they did.

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael fell in stunning defeat to small-town elementary school teacher Amy Nichole Grady in the state’s primary Tuesday night, following back-to-back years of strikes in which teachers packed into the state Capitol and made the powerful Republican their chief target.

“I was the villain,” Carmichael said in an interview Wednesday morning. “I think it’s an unfair criticism but I respect their position and honor their right to have that position.”

The election night upset was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes and came after Carmichael took in more than $127,000 in contributions for his first election since the teacher strikes, dwarfing Grady’s self-funded war chest of just over $2,000.

Grady, who describes herself as a “Pro-life, Pro-2nd Amendment conservative teacher who is fed up with self-serving elected officials,” said she launched her political career after participating in a nine-day teacher walkout in 2018 over pay raises and health insurance. The strike, which resulted in teachers getting a 5% raise, helped launch similar movements in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Washington state, and Los Angeles.

The following year, teachers in the state went on another strike, this time over a wide-ranging bill that would have allowed West Virginia’s first charter schools. Carmichael pushed hard for charters, repeatedly citing the state’s dismal testing scores as proof that lawmakers needed to act, while publicly feuding with Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who won his own emphatic victory Tuesday night.

The bill eventually failed but a similar measure, which contained another teacher raise, was resurrected and passed in a special summertime meeting of the legislature that undercut the threat of a third strike. Still, teachers stormed the statehouse, filling the halls with booming chants and songs.

“It’s like everything with education, we have people making decisions that have never been in the classroom,” said Grady, who added she doesn’t oppose charters but felt that the proposal needed additional research. “You have to walk the walk.”

Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Grady, said the protests mobilized voters against Carmichael.

“Teachers have said all along we will remember in November,” he said. “I think that momentum is going to continue and teachers realize they have power and they are making their voices heard.”

Carmichael, who has served in the state legislature since 2000, conceded the race Tuesday night, congratulating Grady on her victory. Later, he noted that teachers received two raises when he was Senate president.

“It was a good record on education but once that false narrative is ingrained in someone’s mind you can’t confuse them with the facts,” he said.

In November, Grady will face Bruce Ashworth, a roofing business employee who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. The district voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump in 2016 and the seat is expected to remain in Republican hands in the general election.

Grady had trouble believing she won.

“I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I had won until my cell phone started ringing and I saw it was Mitch Carmichael calling,” she said.

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