Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. April 30, 2024.

Editorial: A look at the upcoming congressional primaries

The primary election for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia has been a long-anticipated one. And it’s only picked up more heat since Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the state’s only congressional Democrat and a vital vote for the first two years of the Biden administration, announced late last year that he wouldn’t seek another term.

On the Republican side, Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., have both filed to run for Manchin’s seat, along with Bryan Bird, Zane Lawhorn, Don Lindsay, Bryan McKinney and Janet McNulty. It’s a crowded field, but, make no mistake, it comes down to Justice vs. Mooney.

Mooney filed to run for the Senate just a week after winning another two-year term in the House of Representatives in November 2022. Justice teased his announcement, pondering whether to enter the race during his remote public briefings as governor, before finally announcing his run on his 72nd birthday a little more than a year ago.

Both of these candidates come with a lot of baggage. The consistent knock on Mooney has been his nonpresence in his district outside of election cycles. He’s also the subject of two congressional ethics investigations, which allege that he used campaign money for personal gain, accepted gifts like luxury vacations from supporters and used his congressional staff as personal valets for himself and his family. He’s also been accused of tampering with witnesses and evidence in the congressional investigation. Mooney has denied all of the accusations.

Justice has been something of a part-time governor for eight years, and has the equivalent of a red-flag factory around his finances. The man once thought to be worth $1.3 billion is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debts, court settlements, legal fees and fines. A company helicopter was recently seized by a bank as a way to make good on a multi-million dollar loan, and several properties owned by Justice or his businesses have been auctioned off because of unpaid taxes.

But Justice does appear to have the backing of disgraced former president Donald Trump, who is still very popular in West Virginia. Mooney rode Trump’s approval to election wins in Congress, but he does not have Trump’s backing this time. So, Mooney is hammering Justice on his financial woes, hoping it will give him a foothold in the race. Justice is popular, and past polls have shown him clobbering Mooney.

On the Democratic side, there’s Wheeling Mayor Glen Elliott and Marine Corps veteran Zach Shrewsbury. Elliott secured Manchin’s endorsement last week, which should help him on May 14.

Disgraced ex-coal industry executive Don Blankenship also is running as a Democrat for the Senate nomination, though, as one recent op-ed in the Gazette-Mail by Robert Rupp put it, Blankenship’s campaign is one of political nihilism.

Blankenship spent a year in federal prison after a misdemeanor conviction for his involvement in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster — an explosion that killed 29 miners. He’s been obsessed with cleansing his name ever since, and has used campaigns for public office to try and do so. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2018, then ran unsuccessfully for president of the United States as a member of the Constitution Party in 2020.

Drawing significantly less attention this year are the races for the U.S. House. Long-serving incumbent Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., has one opponent, Derrick Evans of Wayne County, in the 1st District race. Evans is best known for having resigned his seat before he ever served a day in the Legislature, after he live-streamed himself participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol. Ironically, Miller, who had to be evacuated with her congressional colleagues for her safety, voted against certifying Electoral College votes for the presidency, helping fuel Trump’s persistent claims that led to the riot in the first place.

Evans pleaded guilty to a federal charge of civil disorder and spent three months in prison. He appeared conciliatory before the court and admitted his wrongdoings, proclaiming his profound sorrow for his actions. However, before his sentence began, Evans went back to peddling conspiracy theories and describing himself as a “peaceful protester” and a victim, which is a baseless and patently false claim.

In yet another irony, because Evans is a convicted felon, he is ineligible to run for state or county office in West Virginia, but he’s free to run for Congress.

There are two Democrats also seeking the 1st District nomination, political newcomers Chris Bob Reed, of Charleston, and Jim Umberger, of Lewisburg.

In the 2nd District, there’s a crowded Republican field that includes West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore, who spurred the creation of school vouchers in the state and also stated that West Virginia wouldn’t do business with financial institutions or energy companies that invest in clean and renewable energy.

His opponents include Joseph Early, of Bridgeport, Dennis “Nate” Cain, of Hedgesville, Alexander Gaaserud, of Parkersburg, and Chris “Mookie” Walker, of Martinsburg. There is only one Democrat in the race, Steve Wendelin, of Lost River, who will automatically advance to the general election in November.


The Herald-Dispatch. April 25, 2024.

Editorial: It’s long past time for Don Blankenship to leave public life

Almost all attention to the primary election in West Virginia next month has been focused on the Republican side of the ballot. That’s where the votes are, and that’s where the money is flowing. But there is a race on the Democratic side that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has injected himself into.

This week, Manchin endorsed Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat Manchin is retiring from. Elliott is one of three candidates in that race. It’s a good bet that most West Virginians can’t name any of those with maybe one exception: former coal executive Don Blankenship.

Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy, which owned and operated the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, where 29 miners were killed in an explosion in 2010.

After an investigation into the disaster, Blankenship was indicted on several federal charges, several of which were felonies. After a jury trial, Blankenship was acquitted of the felony charges, but he was found guilty of conspiring to violate federal mine safety laws, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to the maximum prison term of one year, and he was fined $250,000.

He was released from prison in 2017. Ever since, he has tried to clear his name, saying federal investigators reached the wrong conclusion as to the cause of the explosion.

In his efforts to redeem himself, Blankenship began a second career as a politician. He ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2018, but his effort to unseat Manchin failed. In 2020, he ran for president of the United States as an independent. And now he wants Manchin’s seat again, only this time he’s running as a Democrat.

All three of Blankenship’s attempts at political office can be described as long shots, but even that phrase overstates the chances he ever had.

If Blankenship wants redemption for what happened at Upper Big Branch, it’s not coming from the public, at least not in his lifetime. Maybe heaven has forgiven him, but the West Virginia voting public is far more hard-nosed about these things. The mine disaster was almost 14 years ago, but when it comes to such things, people have long memories, and forgiveness takes time, if it ever does happen in the hearts and minds of voters.

Manchin’s endorsement of Elliott is a reminder that Democrats still exist in West Virginia and the party plans to run a slate of candidates in the fall. One person the Democratic Party establishment does not want on that slate is Blankenship, and it’s easy to see why.

Realistically speaking, if Blankenship is ever cleared of responsibility for Upper Big Branch, it will be after he is dead, and then it will be by historians. Until then, he is better off out of the public spotlight and not put himself out there where he will be forever linked to those 29 deaths.

Blankenship’s presence on any ballot opens the wounds that Upper Big Branch created. He should just leave the stage and stay out of the spotlight entirely.


The Intelligencer. April 29, 2024.

Editorial: U.S Postal Service Is Leaving W.Va. Behind

Most West Virginians have a pretty good idea what the federal government and its partner agencies think of us. But while we were busy bracing for reported tornadoes, derechos, heavy rain and flooding that has demanded our full attention for the past month, the U.S. Postal Service made an insulting and damaging move.

In early April, the U.S. Postal Service went ahead with its decision to convert the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center into a Local Processing Center.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. let loose with his frustration, calling the move “a slap in the face.”

Now, rather than being distributed from Charleston, mail from that region will have to go from Charleston, then through Pittsburgh.

“Not only is this transition an injustice to the West Virginians who work at the facility and the families and businesses who rely upon timely mail service, it is also economically irresponsible,” Manchin said.

Predictably, the USPS dressed up its decision by claiming the move will actually be good for us. Manchin was having none of it.

“Every piece of our mail will now have to travel hundreds of miles from Charleston to Pennsylvania, where both the cost of living and operating a facility are significantly higher, and then back to West Virginia. Simply put, the assertion by the Postal Service that their decision will improve service for West Virginians is completely false,” he said.

This same move took place in Wheeling in 2011 when the Postal Service moved all mail processing to Pittsburgh. While an argument can be made that the Wheeling move made sense — Pittsburgh is only 55 miles away, after all — driving mail from Charleston to Pittsburgh involves a more than 200-mile trip each way along Interstate 79.

Manchin has ideas on how to counter the move. It has been only a couple of years since Congress had to bail out the USPS because it was viewed as an essential service.

The decision “directly defies the Postal Service’s self-proclaimed mission of reliably serving every community, and I will be asking for a complete audit of the services being given in exchange for the money taken,” he said.

Surely there will be others who agree with him. The USPS has demonstrated it isn’t terribly worried about fulfilling that mission

Other regions and states will no doubt suffer the same fate soon enough, if the USPS is allowed to continue on this path unsupervised.