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W.Va. teenager to run for House of Delegates

by ANN ALI The (Charleston) State Journal on September 10, 2013 10:30 AM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers tend to do a lot of juggling — home lives, careers, campaigns and keeping up with the issues.

Saira Blair is hoping to juggle a legislative session with her first year of college.

Blair, a 17-year-old Republican from Martinsburg, filed pre-candidacy papers to run for the House of Delegates Aug. 5. She would turn 18 in time to meet state requirements that House members be at least 18 years old and a member of his or her district for at least one year.

Blair, daughter of Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said she has quietly worked alongside her father throughout his campaigns, and her interest was sparked by age 7.

“I’d always planned on running, but it had never been so close in my mind,” Blair said.

She credits the push to run this year from her recent experience with the youths in a government program that puts 200 students from throughout the state in Charleston, running them through the motions of writing a bill, attending committee meetings, presenting the bill on the house floor and even putting up with lobbyists and the press.

“It was everything you would see in Charleston on a regular day, and when I got home from that three-day trip, I wanted to go back more than anything,” she said. “It was the best weekend of my life, and I realized that what I was arguing for there I wanted to see happen, and I wanted to see it happen right away.”

Blair already stays busy at Hedgesville High School with a 4.2 grade-point average as president of the Kiwanis Educating Youth Club, vice president and former sergeant-of-arms in the Youth Leadership Association, secretary of Junior Civitan, a member of Hedgesville High’s Voltage Show Choir, Student Government Association, yearbook staff and the speech and debate club.

Her list of volunteer activities is just as long: Horses with Hearts, Relay for Life, Adopt-a-Highway, the Hispanic Heritage Festival, American Red Cross blood drives and Veteran’s Administration holiday volunteer, just to name a few. And she works for Apple Crest Orchard and Sunset Water Services, both in Martinsburg.

She keeps several hobbies, including attending school sporting events, quilting, skeet shooting, playing piano and, of course, politics.

“I plan to attend West Virginia University if I win, and multi-tasking has always been a part of my life,” she said. “It’s not really an option in our household, it’s expected.”

Blair knows the West Virginia Legislature’s youngest member ever elected was current lobbyist Larry Swann, who served 16 years, starting at age 20. And she’s quick to point out Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was 22 when he was first elected to the House of Delegates, so serving at a young age isn’t something new. The Legislature has welcomed several younger members in recent years.

“I feel as if my district and I see eye-to-eye on pretty much everything, so the majority of my district, if I vote as I feel, will support me,” Blair said. “I am a little worried people will look down on my age and my decision to run so early, but like I said, our current governor was 22 when he started, and he didn’t know everything. He didn’t necessarily have experience, and he became an excellent legislator, so I think I can overcome the obstacles.”

Blair said she made the decision to run on her own, but her family has been extremely supportive. She’s also gotten her classmates on board.

“I’ve got the youth involved, and I think that’s important,” she said. “My generation deserves a vote in what’s happening; we’re the ones who have to deal with the accumulating debt.”

She said her main goal is to bring jobs to West Virginia, especially since she’s already seeing friends leave the state to get good-paying jobs. And she has a platform to back it up.

She wants to eliminate the business franchise tax, reduce the corporate net tax, drop the business property tax and create a fair and consistent court system.

“This is information I’ve grown up with that’s been a part of my life, and it’s something that I just know,” Blair said. “I do have a lot of people helping me with my campaign who are going to help me along the way.

“It’s about the people and doing the right thing, so I’m willing to do the research and help them as much as I can to represent them as well as I can.”

Blair acknowledged that her father would probably serve as one of her greatest resources at the Statehouse, but she said no new legislator knows all the answers.

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas, who was the nation’s youngest party chairman, described Blair as a strong asset for the party.

“Saira is an example of the youth and energy in the West Virginia Republican Party,” Lucas said. “The Republican Party is representative of the values and interests of young people in West Virginia, and we’ll continue to see many great things out of our young people.

“She makes me feel like an old man already.”

Blair said West Virginia needs to be aggressive in addressing its issues, and her generation deserves a say in how the nation’s debt is handled.

But she has backup plans too. If she doesn’t win the election, instead of taking the spring semester away from WVU for the regular legislative session, Blair says she will attend classes. And she’s treating the campaign as a learning experience.

“I think it’s a learning experience at any age,” she said. “I watched my dad lose in 2010 for his 16th Senate District seat, and he was a little upset for about 15 minutes, but then he moved on with his life and got back to business. That’s what I’d plan to do.

“There’s a good possibility I’d run again, but I can’t say how soon, though.”

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