Entry for October 22, 2006

Photograph  of Don Blankenship from WV Metronews.

Today, my father, had he lived would have turned 90.  Barry and I talked today and he alerted me to Ian Urbina’s article today in the New York Times, Wealthy Coal Executive Hopes to Turn Democratic West Virginia Republican

Massey Energy’s CEO  Don L. Blankenship, 56, is a hated man in the coal fields of southern West Virginia for his dogged pursuit of mountaintop removal, although “top” is an understatement.  He already wields tremendous power, but not enough, I guess.  According to Urbina,

In a state where candidates who win typically spend less than $20,000, Mr. Blankenship has poured more than $6 million into political initiatives and local races over the past three years. Mr. Blankenship has spent at least $700,000 in his current effort to oust Democrats, and the state is awash with lawn signs, highway billboards, radio advertisements and field organizers paid for by him. Blankenshipdeclined to be interviewed, but told a Republican gathering last year that it

doesn’t take clairvoyance to know what we need to do [in West Virginia.]…If you go down to Virginia and copy the law book and write ‘West’ in front of it, you would clearly have a more prosperous economy, a better education system and you’d have a better state. It’s that simple.

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America complains that one tactic for change has been to oppose unions.  Three decades ago 95% of the miners in West Virginia were unionized.  Now that number stands at less than 25%. 

From the first day he could, Don began busting unions….He was pretty effective at that, so now Don is trying to extend his reach across the state in politics.

According to Urbin,

In 2002, Republicans picked up 11 seats in the House of Delegates (but are still in the minority), and local political analysts say it is possible, though a long shot, that the Republicans will pick up the additional 18 House seats they need to control the Legislature in November. The Democrats retain a strong majority in the Senate.

In 2004, Mr. Blankenship financed a $3.5 million campaign that catapulted a little-known lawyer, Brent D. Benjamin, who barely won the Republican primary, onto the public stage as the first Republican to serve on the state’s Supreme Court.

In 2005, Mr. Blankenship spent $650,000 to deal Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, the most significant defeat of his tenure by blocking a plan to use bonds to shore up the state’s under-financed employee pension plan.

He adds,

Mr. Blankenship personally oversees his media campaigns; he writes advertisements and designs polls, and speaks on talk radio more than the chairman of the state Republican Party.

A a $100,000 donation from Massey Energy paid for half the price of purchasing  the party’s headquarters in Charleston in 2002.   Party chairman, Doug McKinney told Urbin,

This has never been an easy state for Republicans….But finally this state is at a tipping point, and Don is a big reason for that.

Representativee Nick J. Rahall II (D), who I was told while on OVEC’s writer tour, is responsible for getting language added to the suface mining act which allows the MTR process to be more affordable, by not requiring a return to original contours, said in the article, 

Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office….He would be twice as accountable and half as feared.

 

 

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