US Senate Race - West Virginia

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You can't make this stuff up. The West Virginia Republican Senatorial campaign has three leading candidates. One is the current State Attorney General, who put down roots in West Virginia in 2012 just long enough to qualify legally for election. One is the current third district Representative, who changed from Democrat to Republican in 2013, after having served in the State Legislature for over 20 years as a Democrat. And one is --- Don Blankenship.

 

Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Coal who inspired fear among his corporate subordinates when they dared to place safety first before coal production, he who was imprisoned for a year for a misdemeanor offense of violating Federal mine safety regulations, he who was the head of the company when 29 miners died in a totally preventable coal dust explosion, this person is making a serious run for the US Senate.

 

You would have to have lived in this section of Appalachia for decades in order to gain a full perspective as to the true nature of Don Blankenship. In 1985, while he worked for a Massey coal subsidiary, a bitter strike against Massey roiled the hillsides of West Virginia and Kentucky. Violence was common, as union supporters fired guns at replacement drivers and workers, and replacement workers struck miners with their coal trucks. In the end, the miners agreed to go back to work, but under the terms of the old contract, not the new nationwide bituminous coal miner contract that the union was trying to get Massey to adopt. During the strike, armed guards and replacement workers were housed in barracks at the mines, reminiscent of mine conflicts in West Virginia of the 1920's. Don Blankenship became the voice of management, decrying "union terrorism" as he justified the measures Massey took to ensure continuity of operations.

 

Once the strike was over, Massey evolved into a company that kept buying up union coal mines, shutting them down, then reopening them as non-union mines. The power in the mines swung back firmly in management's direction. Blankenship's fortunes rose as his stature as a union-buster grew. He became CEO of Massey and gained a reputation as someone who disdained the regulations imposed upon his industry by the government. Within Massey mines, code phrases such as "red pens" would alert miners when government inspectors came to conduct inspections. That enabled the miners to pretend to be obeying all requirements while the inspectors were present, then get back to "running coal" once the heat was off.

 

Eventually, this culture of corporate evasion of regulations came to a head, on April 5, 2010, when the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine was enveloped by a coal dust explosion that killed 29 miners. Coal dust, like any organic material, is capable of generating an explosion that will follow through mine chambers as long as there is dust to ignite. Apparently, there was enough dust to cause the explosion wave front to extend for thousands of feet underground. That is a lot of coal dust.

 

Don Blankenship refused to accept responsibility for the disaster. He evinced a theory that a sudden and massive influx of methane at the mine face overwhelmed all of the safety efforts that Massey used, and caused the explosion. Not only that, but he insisted that the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) required Massey to use a ventilation plan that significantly contributed to the damage of the explosion. All through the investigation where it was conclusively shown that poor dust control was the primary reason for the size of the explosion, Blankenship railed against the investigators, claiming that Massey and Don Blankenship were being railroaded.

 

I was amazed that in late 2014, Don Blankenship was indicted for Federal crimes associated with the UBB disaster. There were two felony charges relating to security fraud and issuing of false statements. These charges were related to misleading statements that he made after the explosion to minimize the impact of the disaster on the Massey stock price. There was one misdemeanor charge pertaining to conspiring to violate mine safety regulations, the actual charge that pertained to the accident and the lives lost. He was convicted of the misdemeanor, acquitted of the felonies, and in 2016, he was sentenced to a year in Federal prison on the misdemeanor charge. It is an indictment on our judicial sense of priorities that the securities fraud was viewed as more serious than the charges related to the actual killing of 29 miners, but I was happy to see any semblance of justice against the prevailing corporate culture of the mining industry.

 

In a world that retains a sense of morality, this would have been the end of Don Blankenship as a public figure. He would have served his time, then lived his life at his home in Las Vegas with the millions of dollars he received during his decades at Massey. But this man lived for more than money. He wanted revenge, and exoneration in the field of public opinion. During his imprisonment, he paid for the publication and mailing of a booklet describing what really happened in UBB, and how it was the political enemies of Don and those who hated the coal industry who were really to blame for the deaths of the 29. We received one of these pamphlets in the mail, but barely glanced at it before placing it in the recycling bin. As it turns out, the propaganda in the mail was only the first blast in Don's redemption tour. He kept appealing his conviction up until the last week of his imprisonment. Then, in 2017, he announced that he was running for Senate from West Virginia.

 

When I saw the first of his campaign commercials late in 2017, I was convinced that he was using the vagaries of campaign finance to enable him to use unlimited funds to continue his crusade to clear his name. Don was by far the first West Virginia Senate candidate to place ads on TV. As time went on, however, I sensed a change in the tenor of the campaign ads. The guy actually thinks he can win. This from someone who has the charisma of a toad. Check out one of his last-minute ads if you dare: Blankenship Senate Commercial

 

Don Blankenship has his primary residence in Las Vegas. He has long had a home situated on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork river from West Virginia. His residency credentials for West Virginia are tenuous at best. But this example of human excrement is trying to convince enough voters of this state that he has always been misunderstood, and under-appreciated for all he has done for the hard working coal miners of the state, offering them a pathway to black lung disease, or if they are really lucky, immolation in one of his under-maintained mines. I am hoping that this Tuesday will represent the absolute repudiation of Don Blankenship, and cause him to crawl under a rock out in his Las Vegas hacienda, never to be seen in this state again.

 

Posted first on my blog at https://evenabrokenclock.blog

Comments

Even A Broken Clock Added May 7, 2018 - 9:29am
My apologies, Autumn, for all of the duplicates. I was getting no notice of article publishing, and for some reason I cannot delete the duplicates. If you could I would appreciate it.
Dino Manalis Added May 7, 2018 - 9:30am
 Trump is popular in West Virginia, but conservative and moderate Republicans have to fight among themselves first before they take on Senator Manson.
Dave Volek Added May 7, 2018 - 3:19pm
It's a sad state when someone with so much controversy in his life feels he needs to run for public office--and stands a good chance of winning. 
 
In the TDG, he wouldn't get this far.
Red October Added May 7, 2018 - 3:27pm
Honest journalism would provide your readers with Don Blankenship’s version of what happened.  Because of Blankenship’s involvement with politics, specifically Republican politics, he considers himself to be a political target and that’s why he was found guilty. 
 
By way of example, a former employee of Blankenship, Deborah May, filed a lawsuit claiming that stress from personal abuse forced her to quit her job in November 2005. The lawsuit claimed that such comparatively minor mistakes as a wrong breakfast order from McDonald's, misplaced ice cream in the freezer, and an improperly hung jacket in the closet caused difficulties with Blankenship.  West Virginia’s top court sided with May.  So nobody in the Republican Party is the least bit surprised that he didn’t get a fair trial following the accidental death of 29 miners. 
 
According to Blankenship federal mining regulators forced his company to use a defective ventilation system.  When it was all said and done all they could prove on Blankenship was that he was guilty of a misdemeanor offense.  You make it sound like there was gross negligence and that Blankenship himself was the reason those miners died. 
 
The fact of the matter is that nobody has provided more private sector jobs to the people of West Virginia than Blankenship.  Of all the people that could serve in higher office, he’s the type of guy I would want, not some career politician that only knows about the public sector. 
Leroy Added May 7, 2018 - 5:33pm
"I am hoping that this Tuesday will represent the absolute repudiation of Don Blankenship, and cause him to crawl under a rock out in his Las Vegas hacienda, never to be seen in this state again."
 
If you are a Republican, you are likely to be disappointed.  Unless Trump can move the needle back, he will be the GOP nomination.  If you are a Democrat, you are probably happy because he is unlikely to win the election.  It is the Democrat's best chance to win.
 
I saw him on one of the news shows.  He may be a liar for all I know, but he came across as a straight-shooter.  If he runs as an outsider, he may have a chance.  Trump doesn't think he can win.
wsucram15 Added May 7, 2018 - 11:58pm
EABC...Ill have to talk to my BF's family about this guy...they live in WV. His parents are from WV.   But I know that name from somewhere.
You know..its just what the Trump ppl need though..a guy like this. Right up their alley and will fit like a bookend with the rest of DC right now.
 
Bill Kamps Added May 8, 2018 - 8:18am
People get the government they deserve, for better or worse.
 
This matter is up to the good people of West Virginia to decide.  As Red October points out, there are two sides to this story.  I am not in possession of the facts on this matter, and given how the internet works with its proliferation of false facts, it would take more than a little effort to find out enough, so I could make an informed opinion.
 
Hopefully the people of WV, are close enough to this matter to know whether or not it is a good idea to elect this guy.
 
Regardless of the election outcome, it seems unlikely this will be the worst person ever sent to Congress.  Long serving Senator Byrd was a member of the KKK, and also from WV.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:13am
Dino, you have a way of stating the obvious that is unparalleled. BTW, it is Senator Manchin.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:14am
Dave - agreed, both with your assessment and with your system. But that won't help in the here and now.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:18am
Red, I remember that trial from last decade. What that trial did was to expose the pettiness and cruelty of Don Blankenship's character so that the relatively minor incidents you describe became the triggering events that caused Don to heap abuse upon his employee. But then, this was just one of those she said, he said, except in this case the law suit was found in favor of the woman.
 
The charges against Blankenship for UBB were all Federal charges. They had nothing to do with the state judicial system, so I don't think it is valid to conflate the two issues.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:20am
Leroy, I honestly don't know how it will turn out. It will be without my vote since I am registered as a Democrat (I know that's a big surprise to the WB audience). West Virginia has no large population centers, so much of the voting population will come from small towns and exurban sprawl along the creeks and hollows of this state. Polling is notoriously inaccurate in this state, so we'll see.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:22am
Jeanne, Don has been a national figure ever since the 1980's Massey coal strike, and his name was common in the national news due to the explosion and subsequent trial. So chances are you have heard of him, but he is really getting his 15 minutes of fame this week.
David Montaigne Added May 8, 2018 - 9:26am
It never ceases to amaze me how low the quality of candidates gets, and how often an election means choosing the lesser evil.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 9:27am
Bill - you are correct that it is difficult to know the facts, especially now with the plethora of sources available with the internet. That's one reason why I felt a need to at least present my perspective, given from someone who has lived in the state since the end of the Massey strike.
 
You are correct that Byrd was a member of the klan. He also voted against the Civil Rights bills of the '60's. But he did undergo a gradual transformation, and later in his long Senatorial career, had turned 180 degrees from his original positions. He showed you can achieve redemption if you stay in office long enough (but he did overstay by a term or two). Actually, the Senate seat that is up for election is the one that Byrd held for so long.
Bill Kamps Added May 8, 2018 - 9:52am
Clock, I think your article is interesting as is the situation in WV.  To say it is world unto itself I think is an understatement.   I know life has never been easy there, and these days even more difficult as coal becomes less important to the rest of the US. 
 
Given that, it is very difficult for anyone who doesnt live there, to have an opinion on what is best for WV. 
 
Senator Byrd was an interesting person and I mention him not to imply he was not fit for office, but more to highlight the complexities of WV.   As I have noted in another article, humans are complex, as was Senator Byrd. I presume for most of his career WV thought he represented them well.  Few of us, likely including Mr Blankenship, are all bad or all good.  Humans are capable of holding tightly to contradictory opinions, often not realizing the contradiction. 
 
In the past I said that President Clinton was not morally or ethically fit for office, but hindsight shows he was not a bad President, imo.  It is possible that Mr Blankenship, even if all you say about him is true, may be an advocate for the people of WV.   The people of WV will decide what  they want.
Dave Volek Added May 8, 2018 - 11:31am
Bill Kamps
 
In the past I said that President Clinton was not morally or ethically fit for office, but hindsight shows he was not a bad President, imo.  It is possible that Mr Blankenship, even if all you say about him is true, may be an advocate for the people of WV.   The people of WV will decide what  they want.
 
A few weeks ago, someone on WB challenged me that if I were to run for public office, would it be appropriate to bring up my time as binge drinker in my younger days. I would say "yes"--and let the people decide whether to vote for me based on that former aspect of my life.
 
I too agree that Mr. Clinton was unfit for office. I object to others telling me that it is wrong to bring a politician's private life into my voting decision.  I will decide the criterion to get my vote!
 
But there is a paradox. Those who say it is OK for politicians to date porn stars (and while being married to someone else) will be the first ones to run a teacher or preacher out of town for doing the same thing.
 
 
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 2:02pm
David - how true. I think it is the extreme partisanship on both sides that is running those who have a nuanced, realistic view out of politics since they are obviously not true believers. And a government made up of two extremes is doomed to failure.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 2:04pm
Bill, you will be correct in that it will be a decision of the people. As a resident, I would be horrified to be represented by Donald Blankenship. But I am only one vote (and one internet voice).
Even A Broken Clock Added May 8, 2018 - 2:09pm
Dave - I have yet another view about Bill Clinton. I lived across the river from him in Memphis when he first became governor of Arkansas. I can honestly say that I don't remember much about his terms except that he did lose the governor's race as an incumbent in 1980, but won again in 1982. Since Arkansas was in our media market, we got the commercials and stories, but I really don't remember much of that time.
 
I also would have some scandalous episodes that could come to light were I to run for office, but I lack one vital qualification to be a politician. I can't remember people's names. That's a disqualifier right off the bat.
James Travil Added May 8, 2018 - 6:34pm
Did Dino make a joke? Senator Manson?! LOL! But yeah I hope this guy loses. If any terrible job needs a union it's coal miners. If my only legit job choice was to work in a non-union coal mine I'd definitely move elsewhere. That's just a step above prison labor treatment. Disgusting person. Of course it could be worse. I have a friend in Ohio where both of the GOP candidates for governor have vowed to murder as many low income people as possible by taking away their medicade health insurance. They apparently even are bragging about it! Some sick disturbing people out there. 
Bill Kamps Added May 8, 2018 - 6:42pm
Dave, everything in a politician's past is fair game.  The problem with the media is that they repeatedly  fail to provide proper context.  How much time is spent on news about the porn star?  after all this was something done more than ten years ago, and does not affect the country at this moment in the slightest.  Yes I suppose there is some remote possibility that Trump's payment to the  porn star might lead to impeachment, but do we really need to cover it 24/7?
 
How many times did we hear that the Alabama Senate candidate was a pedophile?  While he certainly may have been guilty of statutory rape, and certainly may have been guilty of bad judgement, even the media should know  that dating a 16 year old, is not pedophilia.
 
I would rather know what Trump is planning to do about trade, Korea, Iran, etc, assuming he even knows himself lol.
Stephen Hunter Added May 8, 2018 - 9:56pm
Even, good article. I do feel for the people of W Virginia. When coal was king they were making really good money, as they should for doing that kind of work. However this generation is caught in change, as coal is on the way out. Working at Walmart for low wages is just not going to cut it. So they listen to lies which makes them feel better, and they vote for a return to the good old days. 
Leroy Added May 8, 2018 - 9:59pm
Looks like Blankenship is getting trounced.
Dave Volek Added May 9, 2018 - 12:39am
Bill Kamps
 
Yep, the media have certainly grabbed on the porn star story. 
 
To make a wise vote, I heard to hear these stories. Anyone with an addiction issue does not get my vote. If a politician can't keep his pecker in his pants, he does not have judgement to make decisions for the betterment of society, in my opinion. 
 
And if one has a shady past and would like to keep it quiet, don't get into politics. 
 
 
 
Stephen
There's a lot of yearning for the good old days. Trouble is they were not really all that good in the first place. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Even A Broken Clock Added May 9, 2018 - 10:46am
James - yes, the Republican candidates for governor of Ohio were running as far to the right as possible, while Kucinich and Cordray were running as far to the left as possible. We shall see who wins in November.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 9, 2018 - 10:49am
Bill - your statement" I would rather know what Trump is planning to do about trade, Korea, Iran, etc, assuming he even knows himself lol. " 
Unfortunately, that about sums up Trump's entire policy protocol. In his unseemly rush to reverse all things done by Obama, he is revealing his lack of a vision of what is needed to replace what had been in place.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 9, 2018 - 10:52am
Stephen - agreed. This state was caught up in the image of the proud patriotic miner who suffered degradation and danger in order to provide his family with a decent life. Very true, but oh, so limiting. Education was devalued since you didn't need to know algebra to run coal. And thus, now that the coal is running out, the undereducated workforce has no options other than to hope to climb onto the disability bandwagon. It is truly sad.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 9, 2018 - 10:54am
Leroy - yes, he was defeated and fairly handily. This state is small enough that there is not usually any good polling available, so it truly was an unknown whether he would really challenge.
 
So my brother said to me, after the results, that he should be made to live in one of his mines, since they are so safe. But then he said that wouldn't be fair to the snakes and spiders who live there now.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 9, 2018 - 10:57am
Dave - the old days may not have been as great as we think, but when you have songs like this, looking back over time, Those were the days 
Leroy Added May 9, 2018 - 7:05pm
"Leroy - yes, he was defeated and fairly handily. This state is small enough that there is not usually any good polling available, so it truly was an unknown whether he would really challenge."
 
I have to wonder about Trump's role in the defeat.  He discouraged people from voting for Blankenship because he couldn't win in November.  If so, it might indicate that Trump is in full control in WV.   That could be bad news for Democrats.
wsucram15 Added May 9, 2018 - 11:36pm
"So my brother said to me, after the results, that he should be made to live in one of his mines, since they are so safe. But then he said that wouldn't be fair to the snakes and spiders who live there now. "
So I asked and I heard..perhaps the snakes would eat him after the spiders bit him. Lovely way to go..
 
Even A Broken Clock Added May 10, 2018 - 10:26am
Leroy - we shall see. The 2016 election was as much a repudiation of Hillary Clinton as it was a support for Trump, so the support for Trump may have been like the Platte River in Nebraska - a mile wide and 6" deep.
 
Jeanne - I'm thinking more like the spider Shelob in Lord of the Rings. That would be fitting.
Flying Junior Added May 13, 2018 - 3:44am
I will never forget the reports from the Upper Big Branch explosion.
 
The take-away was that employees were forced by a culture of dishonesty to simply sign off on safety checks without ever performing the required air quality testing.  The culture told them that there was no time to do the checks, let alone correct for any deficiencies.
 
Blankenship is the face of profit before lives.  Extreme profit motive without any regard to human safety or mining conditions.
 
A natural fit for Trump.
Kurt Bresler Added May 13, 2018 - 6:07am
I say Blankenship on a 1-2 second news flash talking about his competition,  I don't remember what was said but I remember laughing out loud.  Does anyone remember that, it was just a flash piece on Fox and friends, I think.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 13, 2018 - 9:39pm
FJ - now that Don Blankenship's parole is completed, I can see a future for him as the new head of the MSHA. As you say, a natural fit.