Richard Ojeda

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Richard Ojeda
MAJ Richard Ojeda.jpg
Member of the West Virginia Senate
from the 7th district
In office
December 1, 2016 – January 14, 2019
Preceded byArt Kirkendoll
Succeeded byPaul Hardesty
Personal details
Richard Neece Ojeda II

Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Kelly Ojeda
EducationWest Virginia State University (BA)
Webster University (MBA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1988–2013
RankArmy-USA-OF-03.svg Major
Battles/warsWar in Afghanistan
Iraq War
AwardsBronze Star (2)

Richard Neece Ojeda II (/ˈɛdə/;[1]) is an American politician and retired Army Major who served as the West Virginia State Senator from the 7th district from 2016 until his resignation in January 2019. A member of the Democratic Party, he briefly ran a campaign for President of the United States in the upcoming 2020 election,[2] which was launched on November 12, 2018, and ended January 25, 2019.[3]

Ojeda received national attention when he became a vocal supporter of the 2018 teachers' strike and advocated for the legalization of cannabis in West Virginia. While Ojeda considers himself a moderate, his political views have been likened more to left-wing populism; he has come out in support of Medicare for all, legalization of cannabis, and anti-lobbyism.

Early life and education[edit]

Ojeda was born in Rochester, Minnesota, the son of Florena (Pansera) and Richard N. Ojeda.[4] He was born into a Democratic family and he registered as a Democrat. He remarked that "back when I was in high school, being a Republican was like cursing". Ojeda's paternal grandfather was an undocumented immigrant from the Mexican state of Jalisco who came to West Virginia during the coal boom to try and make a living, and later gained citizenship. One of Ojeda's grandparents died in a mining accident after fighting in World War II. Ojeda's father was born in the United States, but moved to Mexico and lived there until the age of 8. Ojeda's father worked as a nurse anaesthetist.[1][5][6][7][8][9] Ojeda also has Italian ancestry.[10]

Ojeda graduated from Logan High School in 1988.[6][1] Ojeda earned a bachelor's degree in General Education from West Virginia State University, a public, and historically black university in Institute, West Virginia. Also, Ojeda earned a master's degree in Business and Organizational Security from Webster University, a private and non-profit university in Webster Groves, Missouri.[11]

Military service and teaching career[edit]

Ojeda (left) in Haiti in 2010, assisting with relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake.

Ojeda said "Where I come from, when you graduate high school, there’s only three choices—dig coal, sell dope, or join the Army. And I chose the military". He served 25 years in the United States Army, starting as an enlisted soldier before going through officer training and rising to the rank of major.[1] He earned two Bronze Stars.[1] During his service, he spent time in South Korea, Honduras, Jordan, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq,[1] where he was attached to the 20th Engineer Brigade.[12]

After retiring from the military, Ojeda worked as an Junior ROTC instructor at Chapmanville Regional High School from 2013 to 2017, resigning due to time constraints related to his service as State Senator, now in addition with his run for Congress.[13][14] He helped start a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at a local high school. He established a social services nonprofit, the Logan Empowerment Action and Development, which engaged in community cleanup, Christmas toy drives, provided meals for the needy, and raised money for shoes for kids. During this time, Ojeda also started penning letters to the editor of the Logan Banner. As a result, Ojeda was invited by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to the 2013 State of the Union as a guest. Ojeda decided to enter politics while listening to Sen. Manchin discuss disparities in allocation of "manufacturing hubs" to different regions of West Virginia.[1]

Political career[edit]

Ojeda entered politics in 2014, running for Congress in West Virginia's 3rd District. He garnered 34% of the vote in the Democratic primary, losing to incumbent Nick Rahall whom Ojeda challenged because he believed Rahall was not doing enough to advance the interests of the district.[15][16]

West Virginia Senate[edit]

Ojeda was assaulted at a primary campaign event on May 8, 2016, in Logan County, West Virginia. The assailant, Jonathan S. Porter, who had ties to Ojeda's opponent, received 1–5 years in prison, and a $500 fine as a part of a plea deal.[17][16][18] Ojeda went on to win both the Democratic Primary for the 7th District of the West Virginia Senate, defeating incumbent Art Kirkendoll.[18] In the general election, held on November 8, 2016, he defeated Republican Jordan Bridges by almost 18 points.[19]

In the West Virginia Senate, Ojeda sponsored the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act, legislation to legalize medical marijuana, which was signed into law by Governor Jim Justice on April 19, 2017.[20][1]

In the Senate, he called for increases in teacher wages, arguing that low pay would lead to strikes and teachers leaving the state.[13] In January 2018, he criticized West Virginia Governor Jim Justice's proposed 1–2% increase in teacher wages, saying it was insufficient.[13]

Ojeda has stated "I don't think I've ever voted for a Democrat for president" and supported Donald Trump in 2016.[21][22] He told Politico that he voted for Trump because he initially believed Trump would do something for West Virginians. By 2018, he expressed regret for voting for Trump, saying that "he hasn't done shit" and he is "taking care of the daggone people he's supposed to be getting rid of".[1] Ojeda supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary.[23]

Ojeda resigned from the West Virginia Senate on January 14, 2019.[24]

Teacher strikes[edit]

Ojeda rose to prominence for his early support of and leading role in the West Virginia teacher strikes.[9] A month before the strike, Ojeda, in a speech on the Senate floor, called on his fellow legislators to heed the complaints and requests of teachers lest a strike be inevitable.[16] He then introduced several bills, including ones addressing public employees' healthcare needs, raising their wages, and giving teachers tax deductions on purchased of classroom supplies.[25] Due to his active and vocal support of the strikes, Ojeda became a beloved figurehead of the state's striking teachers and other unionists, attaining something of a "folk hero" status. He was regularly met by chants of his last name and other expressions of appreciation and commendation while traveling the state to speak out in support of the strikers (and later his Congressional bid).[16][15][25]

Ojeda traveled to California to support the 2019 Los Angeles teachers' strike, proclaiming "Don’t make us go West Virginia on you" in an op-ed published in the Intercept.[26]

2018 U.S. House campaign[edit]

Ojeda ran for West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, a seat which was vacated by Republican Evan Jenkins, who filed instead to run in the primary for the U.S. Senate.[27] His campaign was staffed by regular local residents who were working on the campaign without pay, and held regular jobs while working on the campaign.[1]

According to Ojeda, his campaign only accepted donations from individual donors and labor unions. He won the Democratic primary on May 9, 2018, defeating Shirley Love, Janice Hagerman, and Paul Davis.[28]

While personally pro-life, Ojeda believes abortion should be legal because blocking access to abortion would disproportionately hurt the poor.[23] He has been described as a progressive[29] and a populist.[30]

The web publication said that Ojeda's race was a potential bellwether due to the perceived alienation of a significant part of the electorate that supported Trump's candidacy, noting that "Ojeda is no stranger to converting Trump supporters: He won his state Senate election by 18 points, in a district Trump carried by 59."[31]

During the campaign, Ojeda agreed to an interview for Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9. Ojeda's off the cuff unpolished pronouncements subsequently appeared in the trailer for the movie; "I’m sick and tired of people telling me America is the greatest country—because we can whip your ass?", and "I don’t give a shit who you are. I’ll fight you in the damn street right now". The comments were used by Miller's campaign to bring under question Ojeda's patriotism while labeling him as unhinged.[15] The accusations were strongly rebuked by Ojeda in a campaign ad.[32]

As the polling began to indicate a tight race, President Trump traveled to West Virginia in October to campaign for Miller. On the stump, Trump mocked Ojeda while making a point of pronouncing Ojeda's last name while affecting an Hispanic accent.[33][15]

On November 6, 2018, Ojeda was defeated in the general election by 12 points, winning 44% of the vote to Carol Miller's 56%. For Democrats, this was a 32-point improvement in performance from the previous election, where the Democrat won only 24% to the Republican's 68%.[34]

2020 presidential campaign[edit]

In November 2018, Ojeda filed with the Federal Election Commission, officially becoming a candidate for President of the United States.[35][36] His campaign was announced on November 11, at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, which consisted mostly of union members.[37] His campaign focuses included ending government corruption and returning the Democratic Party to a party that benefited the working class.[38] As no incumbent state legislator has ever mounted a serious bid for the presidency, Ojeda was considered a "longshot" and "underdog" candidate.[39][40]

He resigned from the West Virginia Senate on January 9, 2019, to focus on his presidential bid.[41][42] A few days after, Ojeda asked the Senate Minority Leader (a Democrat) if he could rescind his resignation, with the Senate Minority Leader telling Ojeda to talk to the Senate President (a Republican) because that is to whom he sent the resignation letter.[43] The Republican Governor, Jim Justice, seated a lobbyist in Ojeda's vacant seat.[43]

Ojeda dropped out of the race on January 26, 2019, citing his inability to get face time with the networks, and stating one must have access to wealth and power to run for office. He broadcast his withdrawal in an hour-long Facebook live feed.[44]



Ideological orientation[edit]

Ojeda has been described as a populist[45][46] of the "left-wing variety",[46] and a "staunch progressive".[47] He identifies as a traditional working-class Democrat and laments what he perceives as a Democratic party that is increasingly drifting away from its working-class roots and becoming a party of the elite.[46]


Ojeda was one of the few WV lawmakers who came out outspokenly in favor of raising taxes on corporations and the rich, calling for higher corporate taxes (particularly on coal and gas corporations that were the major economic players in WV) to offset spending cuts that had negatively affected public services and employees in the state.[48]

Labor rights[edit]

Ojeda is devoutly pro-union and has received $121,440 from several unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the Teamsters' Union.[49][50][48][46] Ojeda opposes right-to-work laws.[48]

Gun Control[edit]

On gun control, Ojeda has been described as pro-gun,[51] and has stated he agreed with Carol Miller's position that increased services for the mentally-ill would help ease gun violence, his own stances on guns have also been described as similar to Miller's overall, such as mass shootings, and in doing so he would launch a campaign to help remove stigmas regarding mentally-ill individuals. He has also stated that he supports the second amendment, and does not believe more restrictions are needed.[52][53]

Foreign policy[edit]

Ojeda, on his twitter account has posted several tweets opposed to Saudi Arabia and the intervention it leads in support of the Yemeni government against the Iranian-backed Houthis that had taken over much of Yemen's north including its capital, Sanaa, he stated that the US should end support for Saudi Arabia and end arms deals with the nation, he also condemned the country for the alleged involvement of the Saudi government in Khashoggi's death.[54]

Regarding Iran, Ojeda has stated he would not support a war with Iran.[55]


Ojeda stated he supports abortion and that he would only nominate judges who likewise shared his support for abortion. He has also said regarding the term pro-life, which is used to describe those who are against abortions as, "I’m also calling bullshit on the idea that opposing abortion makes you pro-life...If you just want to keep working class women from making their own decisions, you might be pro-birth but you’re not pro-life." He has also voiced opposition to the Helms Amendment that limits the United States in assistance to abortion through foreign aid, saying, "a woman raped by the Taliban or Boko Haram should not be forced by the callousness of our government to bear her rapist’s child,".[56]


Ojeda supports Medicare For All. He has also stated that Congress and the president should be barred from taking out extra insurance, and would instead have to rely on the standard healthcare which would be afforded every American citizen for the course of their terms to incentivize them in promoting and maintaining quality comprehensive universal healthcare coverage.[57]


Ojeda has called for sustainable energy.[47] He is in favor of a Green New Deal.[58][59]

Ojeda has noted that he sees a limited role of the anthracite coal (like the one mined in his home state) in steel-making for the foreseeable future but has acknowledged that coal is "not gonna come back", and expressed his desire to find a way for miners to transition into other well-paying jobs.[46]


Ojeda supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers".[57][47]


Ojeda has called for the legalization of marijuana and clemency for those incarcerated for possession.[60] During his tenure as State Senator, Ojeda spearheaded the passage of a bill legalizing medical marijuana.[61] He advocates directing funds raised from taxes on cannabis sales to fund public works.[47]

Pharmaceutical companies[edit]

Ojeda has taken stances against Big Pharma,[62] focusing in particular on its role in sparking the opioid epidemic.[46]

Campaign finance, political ethics, and transparency[edit]

As described by Ojeda, his campaign focused on "lobbying and corruption in Washington", and has proposed stern measures to address political ethics.[46][13] Ojeda has proposed requiring body-cams on lobbyists in order to increase government transparency and public oversight.[46][63] He is a supporter of WolfPAC,[63] and has pledged not to take corporate donations for his campaign.[43]

Ojeda has proposed that federally elected officials and Cabinet officials must donate to charity any net worth exceeding one million dollars to prevent exploitation of political office for personal financial gain. He proposed that, upon retirement from public office, must be subject to an annual earnings limit of $120,000 (in addition to a $130,000 pension), "subject to automatic yearly cost of living adjustments."[64][46]

Ojeda has called for implementing "donor vouchers," allocated funds that would give individual voters small amounts of money to donate to the candidate of their choice, to enhance the financial sway of individual, poorer voters.[65]

Electoral history[edit]

West Virginia Senate District 7 (Position B) election, 2016[66]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Richard Ojeda 19,978 58.8%
Republican Jordan Ray Bridges 13,987 41.2%
Total votes 33,965 100.0%
West Virginia's 3rd congressional district Democratic primary, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Richard Ojeda 29,837 52.0%
Democratic Shirley Love 14,251 24.9%
Democratic Paul Davis 9,063 15.8%
Democratic Janice "Byrd" Hagerman 4,176 7.3%
Total votes 57,327 100.0%
West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, 2018[67]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Carol Miller 98,048 56.41
Democratic Richard Ojeda 75,776 43.59
Total votes 173,824 100.0%


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  59. ^ @VoteOjeda2020 (December 6, 2018). "Absolutely" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  60. ^ @VoteOjeda2020 (December 27, 2018). "What does real criminal justice reform and attacking the opioid epidemic look like? It starts with no longer arresting people for simple possession and instead referring them to treatment. It looks like legalizing cannabis and letting people in our jails on those charges...out" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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  62. ^ @VoteOjeda2020 (December 27, 2018). "What does checking big pharma look like? It starts by making them pay the drug recovery, banning their commercials – they spend millions every year on tv, and letting the government negotiate drug prices and produce generic meds" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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External links[edit]