In this family, love trumps politics
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Chris Walters, the newly elected Republican to the state Senate, is ready to cooperate.
Walters is one of just nine Republicans in the 34-member state Senate. But he isn't worried about working with members of the Democratic majority.
Bipartisanship is how he conducts his home life.
When he married his 25-year-old wife Liz in 2011, it brought together two families that normally don't hang out in the same political circles.
Chris Walters, 26, is the son of longtime Kanawha County Republican Delegate Ron Walters. Elizabeth Walters was originally Elizabeth Spencer - daughter of former Kanawha County Democratic Delegate Sharon Spencer.
"Most people have split households when it comes to Marshall and WVU," Chris said. "Ours is Republican-Democrat."
It's like a Romeo and Juliet tale in many ways - though this pair of lovebirds from opposing houses enjoys a much happier fate.
Both went to college at West Virginia University, and they met by chance one night on High Street in Morgantown. Chris asked Liz on a first date - complete with a dinner he cooked himself - and they were soon an item.
Even though they were both children of Kanawha County legislators - in fact, Liz was born during her mother's second term in the House of Delegates - the two had never met until that night in Morgantown.
That's against the odds, since both political progenies spent so much time at the Statehouse early in their lives, including stints as pages - the young runners who deliver materials and messages within the Capital complex.
"We should have met a million other times," Liz said. "We all were a page once."
So how did Mom react when she found out the family tree gaining a Republican branch?
"Surprised," Liz said. "She was happy for me because I was so happy and in love."
Both say the get-togethers with the in-laws are entertaining, to say the least.
"Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday of the year," Chris said. "We have fun with each other."
The dynamic was more entertaining when, two years ago, Chris and Liz had their daughter Aubrey. Both Ron Walters and Liz's father Gary started lobbying efforts to get baby Aubrey on their side of the aisle.
Before she was born, Gary already had Aubrey registered with the West Virginia Federation of Democratic Women.
"On the day she was born, he handed me her Democrat Women's card," Chris said.
Not to be outdone, Grandpa Ron signed Aubrey up as a Young Republican.
While Chris and Liz maintain Aubrey's a "bipartisan baby," both grandpas still try to get the upper hand.
"My dad will get her elephants and elephant shirts and her dad will get her donkeys and donkey shirts as little toy things. It's funny," Chris said. "We just laugh. If using that competition gets (Aubrey) more toys, she'll gladly oblige."
Chris said the family's political dynamic serves as an advantage, because it helps open him up to different viewpoints.
"When you hear differences of opinions and you're very friendly and cordial about it when you hear them, you take away so much and you learn so much," he said.
"I'm open-minded, I like to hear a difference of opinion because I really want to learn," he said. "If you're hearing only the same things - the same views that back your view - in every conversation, you're not learning, you're not getting that other side.
"Fortunately, I get that other side every day," he said.
Walters said he is eager to get to work on a host of projects across his district, which spans portions of Kanawha and Putnam counties.
He said he's reached out to the Rev. Matthew Watts on some of his initiatives to improve Charleston's West Side. And he's talked with Charleston Area Alliance president Matthew Ballard on attempts to get a grocery store on Charleston's East End.
He also wants to work with West Virginia State University President Dr. Brian Hemphill on ways to support university growth and fundraising projects.
Walters has also talked with Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, to open lines of communication with Democratic leadership in the Senate. He also hopes to meet with fellow 8th District Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, in the coming days.
Walters is hoping he'll be able to work across the aisle in the Legislature as well as he's done in family life.
"Republicans and Democrats have to work together to craft legislation," he said. "If you cannot do that, you're going to have an ineffective House and an ineffective Senate.
"I'm somebody that knows how to do that and knows how to create an effective system, and I'm going to be practicing that as a Senator," he said.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.