West Virginia Delegate Saira Blair is the youngest legislator in the country.
Blair is a sophomore at West Virginia University.
She’s studying Spanish and Economics.
At the same time, she is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates — representing the 59th District — southern Morgan County and parts of Berkeley County, including Hedgesville.
Blair is a conservative Republican.
“On economic and financial issues, you will find that the majority of people my age are conservative, especially when you talk with them about things like Social Security and whether or not we think it will be around,” Blair told This Week in Morgan County with Russell Mokhiber.
“When it comes to mandatory spending, you are going to find that more people my age are a little more conservative with that because they are looking out for themselves,” Blair said. “My generation is a very selfish generation. We like to get out what we put in. And a lot of people feel that conservative viewpoints are the best way to do that.”
“When it comes to social issues, my friends vary. I have some that are very far to the left on social issues and I have some that are very far to the right. But you have that in all ages when it comes to social issues.”
Last month, Blair traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify with other millennials at a hearing titled “Restoring the Trust for Young Americans” before the House Budget Committee.
Blair proposed eliminating West Virginia’s workers compensation program and replacing it with private health insurance accounts.
When asked about that proposal, Blair said — “it wasn’t simply eliminate workers compensation and have nothing there to replace it.”
“It’s a detailed plan that I’ve been working with my father on and a few other delegates,” Blair said. “We really have been looking into this. It’s not eliminating it. It would be replacing it. What I was saying before, millennials are very selfish — get out what you put in. They would be paying into their own plan, like a 401(k) or a medical savings plan. They would be paying into it. Their employer would be matching it. Say they are injured on the job. Then they would be able to take this out, along with a high deductible rate — they would be able to take it out and be able pay for their injury. If they live a very healthy lifestyle, they would be able to take this out and use it later on. It works as a backup savings.”
(Blair’s plan sounds similar to plans being pushed around the country documented last week in an article titled “Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp” by Michael Grabell of ProPublica and Howard Berkes of National Public Radio. Grabell and Berkes found that state laws in both Oklahoma and Texas, for example, allow employers to opt out of workers’ compensation and develop their own workplace injury plans. The reporters found that those plans generally cover fewer injuries, cut off benefits payments sooner, control access to doctors and even impose mandatory settlements.)
Blair also wants to move West Virginia from being a “pro-labor” state, as she called it in her campaign materials, to being a “right to work state.”
Blair says she believes the legislature will take up the issue in the upcoming session.
But West Virginia’s anti-poverty coalition — the Our Children, Our Future Campaign — recently put out a ten point platform for the new legislative session — and issue number three is — “right to work is wrong.”
“So-called right to work states have a 54.4% higher on-the-job death rate and workers in those states make $5,971 less per year in salary,” the group says. “Also, 7 of the 10 highest unemployment rates in the country are in states with these laws. We oppose efforts to pass right to work legislation in West Virginia.”
“If the proposed ‘right to work’ legislation passes, workers will see lower paychecks and less safe workplaces,” the anti-poverty campaign says. “We think the proposal should be Dead On Arrival. However, the new leadership is in favor of passing ‘right to work,’ so the threat is real.”
When asked about the the claim by the anti-poverty coalition, Blair said — “every study is different.”
“Wages have gone up in a few of the right to work states,” Blair said. “More businesses are coming in. Tesla Motors, when they were building their new battery factory, of the six states in the running, they said they wouldn’t choose four of them because they weren’t right to work states. It’s very clear that businesses are thinking about that when they are deciding where they want to locate.”
“I have friends who work at say Krogers. They are 16, 17, 18 year-olds. I ask them — are you a member of a union? Yes I am. Would you prefer that that money didn’t come out of your paycheck? They say yes, yes I would. I ask — do you know what your rights are? And they say, no, the only thing I know about the fact that I’m in a union is that I have a hat and it is probably sitting in the back seat of my car under a pile of McDonald’s bags.”
“It’s clear to me that a lot of people should have the right to decide,” Blair says. “I don’t think we should ever abolish the concept of unions. I think they have a place. Especially 100 years ago they had a place and were important in our society. But West Virginians are fully capable of making the decision themselves if they would like to join or not join. It’s not going to have a direct correlation on poverty levels.”
“In right to work states, people who opt out of the unions are getting promotions. People who are still members of the union are at the cap and they can’t move up until everybody else moves up within. It’s creating that division.”
“If someone decides to opt out of a union (in a right to work state), the employer is allowed to lower their wage back down because they opted out of (the union.) The benefit would then be safety. But that’s why we have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).”
When asked why West Virginia shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of Hawaii and Germany and make a push toward transforming the state from fossil fuels to alternative energy, Blair didn’t hesitate.
“I’m a friend of coal,” she said.
“There are going to be better alternatives in the future,” Blair said. “I’m very confident that my generation is going to create the energy efficient but also the economically efficient. We simply cannot afford to keep the lights on right now without using fossil fuels. If there was a better, faster, quicker, cleaner way around it, we would already be doing it. But right now it isn’t there. I really do believe that we should utilize the resources that we have — which are fossil fuels — until this new energy source comes — that we truly can utilize in an efficient manner.”
“I do want to go toward that. I don’t know that it needs to be so forced. I have no problem in waiting for another country like Germany to develop it themselves and we try to implement it. That goes against the American — we are first and we are the most creative — but I don’t think our government should be funding that. We have other priorities that we need to be worrying about. We do have another energy source available and we need to utilize that first. And in time, new technology will arise for us.”