A freshman and a renowned podcaster are vying for the seat of WVa House


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — On a spring day, Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy was walking around a day shelter where she volunteers part-time to provide medical care to the homeless. A few blocks away, Kate White, an 18-year-old freshman, was finishing her final exams at Marshall University.

They are first-time candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates who took advantage of an opening in the Legislature redistricting process and hope to secure the Democratic nomination for the 26th district in the 10th primary. may. The winner will face another doctor, Republican incumbent unopposed Matthew Rohrbach, in the general election in November.

If one of them defeats Rohrbach, a four-term delegate, there’s a good chance he’ll be a minority vote. Democrats are heavily outnumbered 78-22 in the House and 23-11 in the Senate, and 26th is among a dwindling number of seats contested by Democrats in a state that has turned heavily Republican.

McElroy is well known outside of West Virginia as part of a husband-and-wife podcasting team that has produced comedy episodes since 2013 and swelled her Twitter past 110,000. However, like most of those followers live Out of state, she hopes to connect with local voters through her background as a family doctor growing up in Huntington.

“I think most people here know me as Dr. Sydnee and not so much as a podcaster,” she said.

McElroy is the self-proclaimed less funny wife who researches stories and anecdotes from medical history for episodes of “Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine” with her husband, Justin. The couple even turned the podcast into a New York Times bestseller.

A recent “Sawbones” podcast examined CNN host Tucker Carlson’s suggestion that to deal with a crisis of masculinity, men should tan their testicles to boost testosterone levels.

“Don’t do that,” Sydnee McElroy said on the show. At the very least, she added, “it’s just bad advice.”

Sydnee McElroy, who has two young children, also works with patients at Cabell Huntington Hospital. When not on call, she is either at home with her youngest daughter or volunteering at the day shelter, where many of her patients struggle with addiction, serious mental illness or HIV.

McElroy decided to run for office because she constantly hears patients tell her about personal issues she can’t address as a doctor — but thinks she could as a state legislator.

“I felt like this was the next step for me as a way to serve my neighbors,” she said.

McElroy’s grandmother, Jodi Smirl, served in the House for 20 years.

“It’s something that’s always been a cooking conversation for us,” she said. “In my family, we always talked about politics and current events and issues. I was one of those kids who, as soon as I turned 18, I was very happy to be able to register to vote. So I’ve always been politically aware and interested.

So did White, who turned to politics at a time when most college students are looking for summer jobs.

White’s father is a social studies teacher who instilled in him a love of civics. She remembers visiting the State Capitol in Charleston in elementary and middle school.

“I love politics in general and government is so important. But the legislature seems to be the liveliest part of it all,” White said. “You have the most influence, I think, and you can talk directly with voters if you want, but also having a speech with other people and not making executive decisions. I really love the process.

Only two people younger than her have ever served in the state legislature. Saira Blair became the nation’s youngest state legislator and West Virginia’s youngest ever elected when she won a House seat at age 18 as a Republican in 2014.

White calls Blair an inspiration.

“I think people know she got elected, so they see me,” White said. “And if they talk to me a bit, they see that I really care about what I do and they think, well, why couldn’t an 18-year-old be in this legislative body and represent a different group of people?

“I chose to run because I think there must be young blood and there are some different ideas being represented in the House of Delegates compared to what’s going on right now.”

Regardless of the outcome, White plans to play trombone in the Marshall Marching Band in his first-ever Thundering Herd football game in the fall.

Her long-term goal is to become a fourth-generation teacher in her family, staying in Huntington rather than following the temptation of a better-paying job far away. She also plans to work for teachers in the Legislative Assembly.

“The education system has been improved, but so much more can be done,” she said, “for teachers in particular, and for the system as a whole.”


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