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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Working class hero could replace Joe Manchin.

Updated: May 3

Welcome to Message Monday! 


West Virginia’s beautiful land, and many of its people, have been sacrificed for coal mining since the 1800’s.   As in other mining states, the government there has rarely failed to back the mining companies against everyone and everything else.  The upcoming election to fill Joe Manchin’s Senate seat is shaking things up, though. 


The other day I saw a story that Don Blankenship, who is running as a Democrat for Senate in West Virginia, had bought his first TV ad. Here it is.


Blankenship says, “Mountaineers [what locals often call themselves] will not vote for fakes and flakes [what he calls 'other Democrats'.] No more transgender nonsense or illegal immigration. No more Black lives matter and mountaineer lives don't.” 


It is a rather typical GOP ad, fanning culture-war animus and failing to mention any proposed solutions to people’s problems. 


Who Don Blankenship Really Is


It is so rich that Blankenship positions himself as someone who believes that “mountaineer lives matter.”  As an AP story tells it, “he’s best known [in WV] as the former chief executive of Massey Energy. He spent a [just a] year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety laws before an explosion at his West Virginia coal mine, Big Branch, killed 29 men in 2010.”


The play Coal Country, based on the testimonies of miners and their families affected by Blankenship’s malfeasance and the Big Branch explosion, and featuring music by Steve Earle, will make you cry and rage.  I was lucky enough to see it at the Cherry Lane Theater in NYC. I don’t spend money with Amazon, but this is the one case where I encourage you to listen to the audio version at Amazon’s Audible.


Didn’t You Say “Democrat”?


I did. Blankenship has run for office twice before as a Republican and done poorly each time.  Now, he’s apparently figured his only problem was the label, and he’s running for Senate – as a Democrat! 


Democrat Joe Manchin is a coal man too, and has made a ton of money from his family’s business while similarly averting his eyes from the “mountaineer lives” lost as a result.  But Joe and other Democrats are trying to ensure that Blankenship doesn’t win the primary.


There are two other Democrats running in the primary.  The “coal Democrat” money is on  Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott. He was an aide to Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, who was in the KKK, filibustered the Civil Rights Act and represented WV in DC for over 50 years. Elliott does claim to be pro-union.  This is in a state where the Mineworkers Union endorsed Joe Manchin - twice.   


The GOP is likely to anoint Gov. Jim Justice as its Senate candidate.  Justice became a billionaire upon inheriting his family’s coal mining operations.  In 2016, NPR called him the nation's “top mine safety delinquent.”  He also owns numerous companies in agriculture and other businesses.  Justice, like Blankenship, has also flipped back and forth between the GOP and Democratic labels.


Democrats Could Nominate A Real Progressive


The third Democrat in the race is Marine Corps veteran, grandson of a coal miner, community organizer, and working-class Democrat Zach Shrewsbury


His message?  “West Virginians deserve a Senator who fights for the working class and will never sell them out to corporate interests for personal gain.”



Zach has orchestrated flood relief drives, fed the houseless, participated in harm reduction training, rallied for affordable accessible healthcare, mobilized West Virginians to stand up to the harmful extractive industry and worked as a climate justice organizer for a progressive veterans organization.  Here is a nice story about him in the Guardian.


The primary will be May 14.  I hope you will support Zach Shrewsbury in any way you can! You can volunteer remotely. It matters!



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