FAIRMONT — Newly-published data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows West Virginia lost nearly 65,000 residents in the previous decade.
John Kilwein, associate professor of political science at West Virginia University, said the result is that the Mountain State will lose a seat in the U.S. Congress, part of a continuing trend and the political fallout from population decline.
“Still, the drop is small, relatively speaking, and the state’s hard political shift to a dark shade of red since the election of President Obama means that the loss of one House seat will have a negligible impact on West Virginia’s small role in presidential elections,” Kilwein said.
Kilwein also mentioned the prominence Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is currently experiencing in the U.S. Senate has a positive impact on the state.
“The state’s power in Congress will be more dependent on the powers and circumstances of its individual elected officials rather than the number of seats it has in the House,” Kilwein said.
He said Republicans have the super majority in both the State Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion so Republicans will completely control the redistricting which Kilwein said sets up an interesting battle within the party to determine which of the three incumbent U.S. representatives is favored as district lines are drawn.
W.Va. Del. Joey Garcia, D-Fairmont, said with the decline in population, the No. 1 thing that residents should worry about is keeping the state’s population here and bringing new people to West Virginia.
“The fact that we are dead last in the state’s that have lost population, that’s a huge issue,” Garcia said.
He said everything he did last year in the legislature he looked at it from the standpoint of “how do we build policies that help young people, stay rebuild and succeed in West Virginia?”
“In addition to that, we need to start looking for ways to bring people back that have moved away or to recruit new people to West Virginia,” Garcia said.
Of course, there is the loss of the congressional seat, Garcia said it certainly hurts West Virginia in losing that representation.
W.Va. Del. Guy Ward, R-White Hall, said losing a congressional seat is certainly not a good thing and he hates to see it happen. He said he believes the state has three good people in Congress and would hate to see any of them go.
“We were anticipating it anyway, with COVID. We’ve been hearing all along that population is down and we’re not the only state that lost congressmen. I’m surprised New York state lost one California, I’m not surprised,” Ward said.
There’s 435 seats in the U.S. Congress, which are reapportioned every 10 years due to population shifts. Ward said if the population shifts, then the districts will also shift.
“I know the state legislature will be going in session sometime later this year to redistrict and when we do that we’ll be redistricting for the Congress districts, too,” Ward said.
Ward said there’s different talk about how those districts will look. He said he think the lines will be diagonal.
“We lose a representative in Congress that hurts. One less person there arguing on our behalf, so that’s not good. Hopefully, in the next 10 years things will change,” Ward said.
He said there’s potential in West Virginia. He’s hoping to possibly gain back that Congressional seat — and maybe even more.
“The population shift in West Virginia seems like the Eastern Panhandle and up around Morgantown area are where a lot of the population is right now, so the upper district may be smaller geographically than the lower district,” Ward said.
W.Va. Del. Phil Mallow, R-East Side, also talked about lost representation and losing a voice nationally.
“I think it’s been forthcoming for many years with the loss of population and when the census comes out that’s what happens,” Mallow said.
He said 25 years ago, the state didn’t use the resources it had at the time from coal severance to diversify jobs and manufacturing.
“And consequently when we lost our main job and our main workforce they went to other states looking for jobs and our young people, they went looking for jobs as well,” Mallow said.
Right now, Mallow said, there’s unbelievable competition between states for jobs. He said it’s imperative more needs to be done to make West Virginia competitive.
“A lot of the things we had in the Legislature, we’re updating old rules and regulations and making it easier for new businesses to come in,” Mallow said.