Rich Lindsay knows the value of talking to people face-to-face. The lawyer and Wingate graduate relied heavily on good old-fashioned hand-shaking and listening as he won a spot in the West Virginia Senate last week.
Running as a Democrat in Trump Country, Rich Lindsay eked out a slim victory to earn a spot in the West Virginia Senate last Tuesday. The 2000 Wingate University grad earned his 8th District seat the old-fashioned way.
“In the primary, I probably knocked on 2,000 doors,” Lindsay says. “In the general election, when I had more support – because in the primary it was just me and a couple of folks – we probably knocked on 8,000 doors.”
Lindsay campaigned less as a Democrat than as a listener. He did no polling whatsoever. Realizing that the media landscape is getting more fragmented by the day, Lindsay didn’t place many ads on social media or in traditional media. Instead, he took his message into the neighborhoods of Kanawha and Putnam counties, where he met people “on their front porches.”
“I basically relied upon my political instincts, what I thought was important,” he says. “And just talking to folks, saying, ‘Hey, what’s important to you?’”
On Tuesday, Lindsay beat Republican Ed Gaunch, the incumbent, by the slimmest of margins: a mere 288 votes. Pending certification of the election on Nov. 13, in January Lindsay will report for duty in the West Virginia State Capitol in his native Charleston, where he’ll concentrate on finding practical solutions to problems plaguing everyday West Virginians. As a Democrat, he’ll be in the minority, with Republicans claiming a 20-14 advantage in Senate seats.
Lindsay is used to interacting with Republicans. At the dinner table, he and his father, a lifelong member of the GOP who once ran for governor of West Virginia, used to discuss the issues of the day. “Because of his experience, one thing that we did talk about was politics,” Lindsay says.
Lindsay feels there is room for compromise, especially when it comes to two of his biggest concerns: the growing income gap in West Virginia and the state’s opioid epidemic.
Lindsay says the nation’s recent economic good times have bypassed many in the Mountain State. Closely linked to the economic woes is an opioid problem that in some way affects about half of West Virginians.
“What I would like to see is an increase in the minimum wage, and I think that’s possible,” Lindsay says. “We have way too many people here in West Virginia who are working eight to 10 hours a day but still qualify for SNAP benefits and still qualify for Medicaid.
“Also, going back to the opioid crisis here in West Virginia, despite the fact that I’m in the minority, I think the Republicans have heard the call on that, so I think we can get something done constructively.”
Staying put at Wingate
Getting back to West Virginia was on Lindsay’s mind even as he entered Wingate University as a freshman in the fall of 1996. Back then, Lindsay actually thought Wingate was a temporary stop after a lacrosse injury during his senior year at Hargrave Military Academy torpedoed his plans to enroll in The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.
“When I went to Wingate, my expectation was that I would go for maybe a year, and then go to The Citadel and start over,” he says. “Then I get down to Wingate, and you know life takes its own direction. I met my wife, Allison Cooke, who I am married to to this day. I fell in with the lacrosse guys. I rushed Delta Sig. I said, ‘Life’s too good here. Why would I want to go anywhere else?’”
"I don't care what team you play for. We've got to get stuff done."
Lindsay majored in history, and he name-drops the history professors whose classes he loved, and who stoked his interest in politics: “Dr. (Bob) Billinger. Dr. (Robert) Ferguson. Dr. (Greg) Crider. Deborah O’Leary. She was wonderful. She taught History 101 and 102. I just felt comfortable there.”
Lindsay lettered all four years as a member of Wingate’s lacrosse team, which was elevated to varsity status during Lindsay’s freshman year. He became president of his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi.
And he became the president of the University’s Young Democrats club. That led to some interesting, but respectful, discussions with his head coach, John Dodd, who was also the director of the Jesse Helms Center.
“Coach Dodd knew I was a Democrat, but when foreign dignitaries would come to campus, he would always ask me to say the Pledge of Allegiance,” Lindsay says.
Among those dignitaries was Kofi Annan, who spoke at Wingate’s 2000 Commencement ceremony while he was still secretary-general of the United Nations. “It wasn’t like he had retired and it was a favor,” Lindsay says. “Not many other of my friends who went to big universities could say the same.”
Crossing the aisle
Lindsay returned to Charleston for a year before entering a master’s program at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and then law school at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia.
While in D.C., Lindsay worked for Jay Rockefeller, at the time a Democratic senator from West Virginia. From Rockefeller, he “learned the importance of that one-on-one personal touch.”
Lindsay employed that touch as he went door-to-door campaigning. He kept his campaign issues-oriented, avoiding the name-calling and personal attacks that characterize many political campaigns these days.
He says he also benefited from some backlash to policies recently enacted – or not enacted – by the legislature, such as making West Virginia a “right to work” state and failing to fix the public-employee insurance program or give teachers a raise until after a strike.
“There’s just been this attack on what I would say are working folks,” Lindsay says. “For a Democrat to be successful, I think, you have to be able to either go full-tilt into where people are on the social issues, or you make the argument, ‘Look, what’s important are the bread-and-butter issues. You need to be able to take care of your family. You need to be able to feel safe. Your kids need to have an opportunity that you may not have had.’ That’s where I probably went more than anything else.”
He’s confident he can work with Republicans to make things better for average West Virginians. Lindsay’s law firm handles medical-malpractice suits, which, he says, are most often settled before trial. The skills at compromise necessary to come to an agreement will come in handy when working in the legislature.
“I really don’t care what team you play for,” he says. “We’ve got to get stuff done.”
November 12, 2018