From Podcast to Politics: An Interview with Sydnee Smirl McElroy
by Erin Brache | published Mar. 31st, 2022
Family doctor, podcast host, mother and associate professor Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy, is a Democrat running to represent West Virginia's 26th District as a member of the state's House of Delegates. With the Democratic primaries being held on May 10, 2022 — can McElroy break into the political sphere?
Meet the Candidate
In addition to her podcasting career, McElroy volunteers at Harmony House, a charity dedicated to providing food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to those in need. She also works at Cabell Huntington Hospital and is an associate professor at Marshall University.
Who is Running?
Currently, H. Kate White is the only other Democrat listed to run 26th District's seat.
“They have not officially announced or put up any sort of social media post or website or anything like that, so I honestly don’t know a lot about them,” McElroy said.
The incumbent candidate is Dr. Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican. During his time in office, Rohrbach has backed a bill to lower the maximum cost of a 30-day supply of insulin from $100 to $35, and another that bans abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for cases of incest or rape.
Rohrbach is also a physician, specifically a gastroenterologist.
“We’ve never crossed paths professionally because we are in two different medical groups, ” McElroy said. “I know him better because he has been my representative for a while and I have sent him many emails, made many phone calls, and gone to the Capitol to try to convince him not to vote the way he was voting.”
Difficulties on the Trail
This is McElroy’s first time running for office, and there have been a few growing pains for her as she learns how to run a successful campaign. From billboards and canvassing to learning what “cutting turf in VAN” meant, building a candidacy from the ground up is not an easy feat, especially for a team of two.
“Justin and I are doing this alone currently. We have not hired anybody on the campaign team,” McElroy said.
Even questions about small things like “can you wear Chuck Taylor’s when you go out and meet people?” are questions a new political candidate like Sydnee has to consider.
To help with the lack of formal experience, Dr. McElroy has been talking to people from the state Democratic party and listeners of her podcasts who wish to offer their expertise.
West Virginia recently underwent redistricting after the 2020 census, and information about who is running and where is muddied. Even ballotpedia.org, a website that compiles up-to-date information about Congressional races across the country, has two different answers for who the incumbent for West Virginia’s 26th District actually is.
Due to the lack of information available for this race, even those who are running for office can get confused as to who they are trying to govern.
“People kept asking, ‘Am I in your district?’ and I would be looking at the map going ‘I think?’”, said McElroy.
Even with the challenges that come from creating a new campaign, McElroy has seen success on the campaign trail. The Twitter page for McElroy’s campaign has already reached over 9,000 followers, almost half of the 26th district’s population.
“The places that people want to live are the places that make investments into their communities.”
The question of how McElroy will be able to balance working at Harmony House, teaching, caring for patients, creating multiple podcast episodes a week and being an elected official has come up in coverage of the race.
According to McElroy, legislators in West Virginia only have a 60-day session from mid-January to mid-March every year. The rest of the year is devoted to special sessions that are called as needed.
“There will be ways to make it all work. That was one of my main concerns is that I love the work I do and I didn't want to have to step away from it completely,” McElroy said.
McElroy’s medical background has made healthcare policy one of her campaign's main focuses. Despite West Virginia's multiple medical schools, the state has been experiencing a doctor shortage for years.
“In some of our rural communities, there isn’t a doctor. There’s no one to go to,” McElroy explained.
Part of McElroy's campaign will be loan forgiveness policies and youth outreach in rural communities to get young people thinking about becoming doctors. States can also bring new doctors in to stay by making West Virginia a more attractive place to live.
“The places that people want to live are the places that make investments into their communities” Sydnee mentioned.
Investments such as public education and solving the problem of food deserts are solutions that McElroy looks to implement when elected.
“I know I will do good at this. I know I will be hardworking. I know I will be better than the incumbent."
With the costs of medicine increasing across the country, many West Virginia locals have been forced to ration their medication.
“A lot of my patients … would pick and choose. ‘This month I'll take the blood pressure medication. This month I'll take insulin. Next month I'll take the heart pill.’” McElroy explained. “We have to lower those costs for our patients. … These are all things we can address on a state level.”
Despite the challenges McElroy's campaign has faced, she remains confident going into the primaries
“I know I will do good at this. I know I will be hardworking. I know I will be better than the incumbent," McElroy said.
The Democratic primaries will be the first major test for McElroy's campaign. On May 10, 2022, the voters of West Virginia will decide whether their platform has legs, or will stumble at the first hurdle.