Getting escorted out of a public hearing while yelling West Virginia’s state motto might have been a best-case scenario for Lissa Lucas’ political future.
On Friday, Lucas, who is running as a Democrat for the House of Delegates in the 7th District, spoke at a House Judiciary Committee public hearing in opposition to co-tenancy legislation, which would allow companies to lease a tract of land for natural gas drilling with the permission of 75 percent of the land owners.
During her speech, Lucas rattled off the names of committee members who have taken campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, prompting House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, to summon guards to kick her off the floor.
As they did, she yelled the state motto, “Montani Semper Liberi,” or Mountaineers are always free.
“I have to keep it short, because, unfortunately, the public only gets a minute-forty-five, while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates,” she said before her removal.
Since then, her short-lived speech has taken on a meteoric rise of its own, landing her on the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, while earning Twitter shoutouts from celebrities like comedian Sarah Silverman and “Scrubs” actor Zach Braff.
As of Tuesday afternoon, her campaign has received $45,000 through ActBlue, an online, small-dollar fundraising tool to connect progressive candidates to small donors across the country.
In a twist of fate, rallying against corporate money in politics might have made Lucas the most effective political fundraiser in the House of Delegates so far this election cycle.
“I really struggled to get the video up because I have such a crappy internet connection; it takes a long time to upload,” she said. “Finally, I got it up. It was up there, it got a few views, and I looked and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just got $300! I’m so excited!’ I sat down and cracked a beer and was like, ‘Wow, $300. Thanks, John Shott!’ ”
Lucas, who has run on surface and mineral rights and campaign funding issues for months, writes web content and handles social media for My Pet Chicken. She also has written a handbook on raising backyard chickens.
She said she didn’t expect to be kicked out of the hearing and didn’t see the issue in stating where candidates get their campaign money from, which is public information.
“I never expected they would make such a huge deal about it,” she said.
According to House Communications Director Jared Hunt, regular House rules govern committee public hearings, as well. Those rules preclude speakers from making personal attacks against members by name.
“When she refused to comply and continued commenting on matters not pertaining to the scope of the bill, she was declared out of order,” he said. “The sergeant-at-arms said when they approached her, she refused to cease her comments and told him, ‘Drag me out then.’ So she had to be physically escorted from the podium.”
He elaborated that, had Lucas brought up industry contributions to legislators without citing them by name, she likely would not have been removed.
While Lucas was not detained, charged or jailed, the West Virginia Constitution may actually allow the Legislature to do as much for the duration of a session, as written in section 6-26.
“Each house shall have power to provide for its own safety, and the undisturbed transaction of its business, and may punish, by imprisonment, any person not a member, for disrespectful behavior in its presence; for obstructing any of its proceedings, or any of its officers in the discharge of his duties, or for any assault, threat or abuse of a member, for words spoken in debate,” the constitution states. “But such imprisonment shall not extend beyond the termination of the session, and shall not prevent the punishment of any offence, by the ordinary course of law.”
Lucas’ recent haul is a promising feat. According to campaign finance data, Delegate Jason Harshbarger, R-Ritchie, who is running against Lucas in the general election, raised $6,650 to win the seat in 2016, on top of a $2,000 personal loan to his campaign.
However, the seat has stayed firmly Republican for years. Harshbarger won it by 30 points in 2016. Before Harshbarger took it over, Delegate Lynwood “Woody” Ireland, R-Ritchie, held it for a decade.
Lucas said she knows she could be facing an uphill climb, but she noted how, since the public hearing, the influence of corporate industries in campaigns and elections has made its way into the public discourse again.
“If nothing else, I decided I was going to run to change the conversation and, by God, I’ve changed it,” she said. “I was going to holler from the hollers, and I did.”