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West Virginia teachers help vote out longtime foe of state’s unions

The teachers handed Republican state Sen. Robert Karnes his defeat as many participated in the GOP primary.

Image Credit: Tyler Evert/AP
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When asked how the recent historic teacher strikes in West Virginia would play out in the state’s primary elections, Republican state Sen. Robert Karnes, a longtime a foe of the state’s unions, confidently said they wouldn’t have “any significant effect.” But teachers and their supports showed him otherwise and voted Sen. Karnes out in the state’s GOP primary.

In what is being called a “blowout,” Karnes, a supporter of right-to-work legislation, was defeated by Republican Delegate Bill Hamilton 5,787 to 3,749.

Karnes re-election loss came after he referred to union members of “free riders” and complained that the state’s teacher strikes were “holding kids ‘hostage'” back in March, The Intercept_ reported. While he told a local newspaper he didn’t think the teacher strikes would have an effect on the primary election because “they probably weren’t voting on the Republican side of the aisle,” the teachers handed Karnes his defeat after many “changed their registration to unaffiliated to vote the incumbent out,” Salon reported.

“I think that teachers showed their political power in the primary,” Edwina Howard-Jack, a high school English teacher and activist in Upshur County where Karnes represented, said to The Intercept. “Teachers showed up and they were voting in their 55 united, 55 strong shirts. … Once the results started rolling in, it was phenomenal. Teachers were really empowered to say, if we stick together we can make a difference.”

Hamilton, who was sympathetic to the striking teachers and opposes right-to-work, gained the support of many unions including teachers’ unions raising upward of $10,000 for his senate race, which was a “substantial portion” of the $53,850 that was raised for Hamilton’s campaign, Salon reported.

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