Robert Karnes is your basic knee-jerk reactionary West Virginia state senator who devoted his tenure in office to hating on unions, especially teachers, especially teachers who participated in the West Virginia teachers' strike, the longest, most widespread strike in state history.
When a local paper asked him last March whether he thought hating on teachers in public would have any kind of political ramifications in the upcoming state elections, Karnes laughed off the idea that teachers "would have any significant effect" on his chances. After all, he rules a thoroughly gerrymandered seat that will likely elect a Republican to the state senate until the heat death of the universe.
So the teachers primaried his ass.
Karnes lost the primary race to moderate Republican Bill Hamilton, 5787 votes to 3749. Not even close. Hamilton is a Republican, but he's not a one-dimensional cartoon villain like Karnes. Hamilton opposes "right to work" laws, backed the teachers' strike, is open to legal medical marijuana, and actually talks to his constituents, even if they voted for a different party in the last election.
Edwina Howard-Jack, a high school English teacher and Indivisible activist in Upshur County, the area that Karnes represents, told The Intercept that some labor activists were concerned that after the strike wound down, teachers would be less active in politics. But Karnes’s defeat proved to her that they are still a potent force.
“I think that teachers showed their political power in the primary,” she told 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.”
“I heard one teacher today say … after yesterday they may want to think twice about arming teachers,” she joked. She told The Intercept that a number of teachers chose a nonpartisan affiliation so they could vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday; under West Virginia’s rules, you either have to belong to the party or be an unaffiliated voter in order to vote in the primary.