‘Unconventional’ candidate vying for House seat
Man says he won’t string residents along if elected
By WHITNEY BURDETTE
DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER
n Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of candidate profiles in advance of the Nov. 4 election. Republican candidate Charles Minemah for the 37th District of the House of Delegates in Tuesday’s Daily Mail.
Mike Pushkin knows he’s not your typical political candidate.
But that’s exactly why he thinks voters in the 37th District should cast their ballots for him in November.
The 44-year-old Democrat is known locally as a musician and cab driver. He admits he doesn’t have the background typical of most lawmakers in West Virginia.
He doesn’t have a law degree, he’s never worked in the medical field and he’s not a teacher. But he has seen first-hand how economic struggles and substance abuse affect people in his district.
“I’m a fairly unconventional candidate,” Pushkin said. “I haven’t been gearing up my entire life or prepping myself or grooming myself for a political career. It’s not something I ever envisioned for myself. I’ve been a professional musician since I was 15 years old. When I came back to Charleston almost 10 years ago, I started driving a taxi.”
Like other cab drivers in the area, Pushkin works as an independent contractor and leases his vehicle through C&H taxi. Because he works independently, he creates his own schedule — something he said would be beneficial during legislative sessions, should he win the election in November.
“Driving a cab, I make my own schedule so it’s a pretty good job for someone who needs to take 60 days off for a session or three days off a month for interim meetings and any other time I need to be off for public events,” Pushkin said. “I think a delegate’s job doesn’t stop at the Capitol steps. I think it’s important to get out here in the community to get a feel for what people need, what people want from their delegate and take that back to the Capitol. I plan to be out here and to be a community leader. I think that’s part of the job.”
Pushkin’s job also means he works with the public, representing all walks of life. He said he sees firsthand what substance abuse has done to the community and families, and it’s a root cause of a lot of crime in Charleston. As a lawmaker, he said he would work to help those battling substance abuse and keep in mind how legislation would affect the people of his district.
“I think I have a pretty good understanding of some of the root causes as to why we have some of the crimes that go on and problems with drug addiction, the problems that face our community I see firsthand every day,” Pushkin said. “I see good things about our community firsthand every day. When we talk about making a law, changing a law, not voting on a law, I’m going to think about how that affects the people who live in this community who I work very closely with daily.”
The 37th District is currently represented by Meshea Poore, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House. Poore lost her primary bid to Nick Casey, leaving her seat in the Legislature open. She’ll serve until newly elected lawmakers take office in January.
Poore has served two-and-a-half terms in the House of Delegates. She was appointed to the position in 2009 to replace Carrie Webster. She won re-election in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote and again in 2012 with nearly 88 percent of the vote. Pushkin noted Poore’s popularity and attributed it in part to her accessibility — something he promises to maintain if he’s elected.
“I have a cellphone, I have an email address and I vow to be very accessible to the people in this district,” he said. “That’s the main thing — they want to be able to talk to me so we can keep an open line of communication.”
Pushkin is already laying that groundwork as an accessible candidate. He’s relying on a grassroots campaign that takes him door-to-door in the district, which includes the East End, West Side, downtown and North Charleston.
“Because of the makeup of this district, most of it is flat and it’s a larger population in a smaller geographical area and the houses are closer together and it’s easier to get out, I go door-to-door,” he said. “That’s what I like doing best. I always have a great feeling when I get home from a day of going out door-to-door and speaking to the voters about what’s important to them.”
So what is important to voters in the 37th?
“Making sure they can trust the water coming out of their tap, public safety,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of horrible crimes on the West Side, all over Charleston. People are concerned about public safety. They’re concerned about their water. They’re concerned about jobs. That’s always a concern — we need to put people to work in this district.
“Mainly, they really like just being able to talk to someone running for office and knowing I’m not the type of person to get amnesia when I walk into the Capitol.”
Pushkin said at first, he wasn’t very confident in his candidacy. The Democratic field going into the primary consisted of lawyer Richard Lindsay, Charleston City Councilman Robert Sheets, Brad Heflin, an account executive with a public relations firm, and Realtor Achie Chestnut. But Pushkin said since the May primary — he won with 45 percent of the vote, beating Lindsay by 20 percent — he’s realized a victory in November could in fact happen.
“I have to admit at first I felt it was a long shot for a guitar-playing cab driver to run for office, but I trust my own motives,” Pushkin said. “I know I just want to be a true, honest representative who takes the conscious of the people who aren’t often heard at the Capitol to the Capitol.
“I trust my motives in that and feel I would be a good representative for this district so I put my name on the ballot and so far things have worked out pretty well.”
Pushkin will face Republican challenger Charles Minimah in the November general election.
Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.