Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy has always been “politically aware” and active in local organizations, but after she went to speak to her district’s House of Delegates representative Matthew Rohrbarch, a Republican, about her concerns regarding a campus carry bill that would allow students to have firearms at the local Marshall University (as well as other colleges throughout the state), she reached her breaking point and decided to run for the 26th District in West Virginia’s House of Delegates herself as a Democrat in the midterm general elections in November. “I got tired of my representative, not returning my calls, not returning my emails, even when I went to see him face-to-face and talk with him at the Capitol, walking away from me mid-conversation,” she told HollywoodLife in an EXCLUSIVE interview.
Dr. McElroy, 39, approached Rohrbach, who is also a doctor, to express her concerns about the campus carry bill as a member of his district. “The Marshall University community faculty, students, [and] staff were very much opposed to this. The local community was very much opposed to this. Aside from a number of medical reasons why the campus would not be made safer by the presence of firearms, the cost to provide the security if you’re going to allow firearms on campus would’ve bankrupted the university,” she explained. “I went up to talk to him directly—doctor-to-doctor—to say we have statistics and data that tell us that putting firearms in the hands of college students—they’re at higher risk for abusing substances. They’re at higher risk for depression and suicidal ideation. This could be a tragedy that we’re creating.”
Rather than having an open dialogue with Dr. McElroy, Rohrbach opted to end the discussion. “That was the conversation where he just walked away from me mid-conversation, turned his back and walked down the hallway, because he disagreed,” she said.
Dr. McElroy, who is a family physician, is now making her first run for public office, campaigning on major issues affecting West Virginians, such as healthcare. As a doctor for over a decade, McElroy has applied things she’s learned in her time as a healthcare provider to learn about what’s affecting the members of her district and patients. “I really feel like I understand the concerns and the needs of our community because I have had that experience as a family doctor,” she said.
“People don’t just tell their family doctors their medical problems,” she said. “I’ve learned this: they tell them all their problems. I knew the things that people were worried about. I knew the other stressors, whether it be trying to find a job or trying to pay their bills or because they have a family member who has substance use disorder.”
Naturally, as a doctor, McElroy has strong opinions and plans for better healthcare in West Virginia if elected. She wants to work towards capping prescription drug prices as there are so many members of the community who live with “chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and hypertension and COPD.” In addition to lowering the cost of medication, she says that there’s a doctor shortage, and she wants to attract more doctors to the Mountain State. “I think we’re building up our community so that we can make it the kind of place where you want to stay and be a doctor,” she said.
Of course, healthcare isn’t the only issue that Dr. McElroy is looking to address. Public education is a prime concern, and part of how she wants to address the issues facing West Virginia schools is by similarly attracting and retaining teachers. She spoke about wanting to offer teachers competitive salaries and better benefits so they wouldn’t leave for surrounding states. “Teachers are professionals and they should be paid like they are,” she said.
McElroy also highlighted the many needs that students have within the classroom, as so many have been affected by the opioid crisis in West Virginia, as well as across the country. “They need access to counseling services and mental health services and social workers,” she explained. “We need to be supporting these families and these children through, before we cause another generation of harm, which is what we’re at risk of doing if we don’t support people and meet their needs.”
Tackling these major issues in West Virginia, Dr. McElroy is clearly ready to fight for the needs of her district, and she’s passionate about bringing major issues to the House of Delegates. She’s worked with Fairness West Virginia to try to pass a Fairness Act in the state, which would guarantee all West Virginians would have the same rights. “These things need to be brought up every session we need to be talking about codifying rights for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” she said, while highlighting that West Virginia has the highest concentration of transgender youth in the country. “These young people within our state are looking for their leaders, for their representatives, for people in power to talk about their right to exist, their right to be happy, their right to get married their right to have access to the medications or surgeries they may need if they want them, their right to counseling, all those things.”
Most of all, Dr. McElroy is incredibly motivated to shine a light on the issues that need to be discussed, whether she’s elected or not. “I’m hoping by running [to] just encourage other people. When you stand up and say how you feel, you’ll be shocked [by] how many people will stand up with you and say, ‘Actually, I do too. And I’m really glad you said something. Let’s work together,’” she said near the end of our conversation.
Nationwide midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8. Find out how to register to vote here.