Joe Manchin and the Fate of the Mountain State

With the 2018 midterm election looming, one of the last relics of the once strong Democratic Party in West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin, finds himself in a fight for re-election.  The big question is, will Manchin be able to tightrope-walk his way to victory, distancing himself from the Democratic Party nationally and his previous support for Hillary Clinton while claiming to be a backer of President Trump's policies?  And if he wins, will this help or hurt the Mountain State going forward?

One problem for Manchin is the decline of the coal industry and its effect on mining jobs during President Barack Obama's two terms in office.  This was partly due to lower-priced natural gas replacing coal as a fuel source and partly due to the Obama administration's overt attempt to restrict the use of coal via Environmental Protection Agency rules, AKA Obama's war on coal.

According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of West Virginia University, "[a]fter reaching nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, statewide coal mine output plummeted by nearly half to an annual total of 80 million short tons in 2016."  In 2017, CNBC ranked West Virginia dead last among its Top States for Business.  The network noted, "Mining employment is down 40 percent in just the past five years, with some parts of the state losing as many as 70 percent of their coal mining jobs."

These facts were not lost on the people of West Virginia.  The Democratic Party's demand for policies to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, which they believe contribute to global warming, began to erode their support even before Barack Obama was elected.  But President Obama's push for green and renewable energy at the expense of the coal industry and West Virginia jobs set the stage for a political revolution.

The trigger for that revolution quite likely was Hillary Clinton.  During her 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton, speaking in reference to the green energy program, declared, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

No matter the context of this quote, those are fightin' words in West Virginia, and that is putting it mildly.  Political representation in the state was already beginning to shift toward the Republicans during Obama's second term, but the hammer really came down in 2016 as the state Legislature, two congressional seats, almost all state executive officials, and one U.S. Senate seat switched from Democrat to Republican – not to mention that Hillary lost the Mountain State to Donald Trump by 42 points, one of the largest margins of defeat in U.S. election history.

The political fallout from this may not be over.  Democratic Party registration in West Virginia has declined from two out of three in the early 1980s, or roughly 67%, to 42% in 2018.  At the same time, the numbers of registered Republicans and independents are on the rise.  

On the surface, Joe plays the politician well.  By all accounts, he is a decent, friendly person, who comes from a small West Virginia town, called Farmington, where he worked in his family's grocery store growing up.  Joe's political stance might be called low-key liberal with a few conservative props thrown in.  He supports the coal industry; unions; gun ownership; government health care, AKA Obamacare; and other entitlement programs.  This still plays well in a state where almost everyone is from a small town or rural area, unions are accepted, gun ownership is common, and poverty is high in comparison to other states.

Underneath is where things get really interesting.  Thanks to 36 years in elected office, plus his personal business dealings, Senator Manchin has a net worth estimated from $3 million to $7 million to nearly $12 million, depending on the source of the information.  And yet, despite his personal wealth, Manchin apparently has not contributed a dime of his own money to aid his re-election.  Instead, he has depended on large individual contributions and numerous political action committee or PAC donations for almost 92% of his $10.5-million campaign war chest.  According to available statistics, over 86% of the money has come from outside West Virginia.

Admittedly, other politicians do the same thing.  However, it is almost a sure bet that the majority of these funds are from Democratic Party sources or people who support the party, and like most donors, it is likely they are going to expect something in return.

Manchin claims he has voted with President Trump over 60% of the time.  But those numbers are inflated by confirmation votes for Cabinet officers and other appointed positions, including the confirmation of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court, which some consider to have been a political throwaway vote.  Focus on public policy alone, and you find that Manchin has supported Trump only 46% percent of the time.

Voters are going to have to weigh Joe's sudden Trump enthusiasm against his endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.  In addition to Hillary's threat to terminate the coal industry, she is also infamous for calling Trump-supporters, including many West Virginians, deplorables and worse.  One would have expected Senator Manchin to revoke his support, at least on the former issue, but no.  After Hillary sent him a personal letter of apology and Bill Clinton begged him to stick with her, he did.

Voters must be mindful that Senator Manchin is still a card-carrying member and supporter of the Democratic Party.  These are the same people who support illegal immigration and physical harassment of their political opponents, and who claim that members of the MS-13 gang are misunderstood, all the while trying to restrict your right to own a gun.  Most damning, these are the same people who have actually put coal-miners on the unemployment line and their families on welfare because of their unsubstantiated fear of climate change.

If Manchin is re-elected, what does this mean for the future of West Virginia?

First and foremost, Joe will vote for a Democrat to lead the Senate, no matter how liberal that Democrat happens to be.  If Democrats take control of the Senate, this could lead to the impeachment of President Trump.  This could also make the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh a real possibility.  No matter the effect on West Virginia, these are acts of political power, and it is highly unlikely that Joe would bite the hand that funds him or vote against the people who help him stay in office.

Voters must also realize that the war on coal is not over, merely paused.  Democrats believe that global warming is the gravest threat to mankind outside the Republican Party, and coal is the biggest fossil fuel villain.  Expect them to attempt to find a way to shut the coal industry down once Trump is out of the way.  Natural gas may be next.

The only question is, will Senator Manchin silently acquiesce to the economic impoverishment of his native state, as he did when Obama was in office?  Or will a letter of apology be required?

With the 2018 midterm election looming, one of the last relics of the once strong Democratic Party in West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin, finds himself in a fight for re-election.  The big question is, will Manchin be able to tightrope-walk his way to victory, distancing himself from the Democratic Party nationally and his previous support for Hillary Clinton while claiming to be a backer of President Trump's policies?  And if he wins, will this help or hurt the Mountain State going forward?

One problem for Manchin is the decline of the coal industry and its effect on mining jobs during President Barack Obama's two terms in office.  This was partly due to lower-priced natural gas replacing coal as a fuel source and partly due to the Obama administration's overt attempt to restrict the use of coal via Environmental Protection Agency rules, AKA Obama's war on coal.

According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of West Virginia University, "[a]fter reaching nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, statewide coal mine output plummeted by nearly half to an annual total of 80 million short tons in 2016."  In 2017, CNBC ranked West Virginia dead last among its Top States for Business.  The network noted, "Mining employment is down 40 percent in just the past five years, with some parts of the state losing as many as 70 percent of their coal mining jobs."

These facts were not lost on the people of West Virginia.  The Democratic Party's demand for policies to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, which they believe contribute to global warming, began to erode their support even before Barack Obama was elected.  But President Obama's push for green and renewable energy at the expense of the coal industry and West Virginia jobs set the stage for a political revolution.

The trigger for that revolution quite likely was Hillary Clinton.  During her 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton, speaking in reference to the green energy program, declared, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

No matter the context of this quote, those are fightin' words in West Virginia, and that is putting it mildly.  Political representation in the state was already beginning to shift toward the Republicans during Obama's second term, but the hammer really came down in 2016 as the state Legislature, two congressional seats, almost all state executive officials, and one U.S. Senate seat switched from Democrat to Republican – not to mention that Hillary lost the Mountain State to Donald Trump by 42 points, one of the largest margins of defeat in U.S. election history.

The political fallout from this may not be over.  Democratic Party registration in West Virginia has declined from two out of three in the early 1980s, or roughly 67%, to 42% in 2018.  At the same time, the numbers of registered Republicans and independents are on the rise.  

On the surface, Joe plays the politician well.  By all accounts, he is a decent, friendly person, who comes from a small West Virginia town, called Farmington, where he worked in his family's grocery store growing up.  Joe's political stance might be called low-key liberal with a few conservative props thrown in.  He supports the coal industry; unions; gun ownership; government health care, AKA Obamacare; and other entitlement programs.  This still plays well in a state where almost everyone is from a small town or rural area, unions are accepted, gun ownership is common, and poverty is high in comparison to other states.

Underneath is where things get really interesting.  Thanks to 36 years in elected office, plus his personal business dealings, Senator Manchin has a net worth estimated from $3 million to $7 million to nearly $12 million, depending on the source of the information.  And yet, despite his personal wealth, Manchin apparently has not contributed a dime of his own money to aid his re-election.  Instead, he has depended on large individual contributions and numerous political action committee or PAC donations for almost 92% of his $10.5-million campaign war chest.  According to available statistics, over 86% of the money has come from outside West Virginia.

Admittedly, other politicians do the same thing.  However, it is almost a sure bet that the majority of these funds are from Democratic Party sources or people who support the party, and like most donors, it is likely they are going to expect something in return.

Manchin claims he has voted with President Trump over 60% of the time.  But those numbers are inflated by confirmation votes for Cabinet officers and other appointed positions, including the confirmation of Brett Kavanagh to the Supreme Court, which some consider to have been a political throwaway vote.  Focus on public policy alone, and you find that Manchin has supported Trump only 46% percent of the time.

Voters are going to have to weigh Joe's sudden Trump enthusiasm against his endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.  In addition to Hillary's threat to terminate the coal industry, she is also infamous for calling Trump-supporters, including many West Virginians, deplorables and worse.  One would have expected Senator Manchin to revoke his support, at least on the former issue, but no.  After Hillary sent him a personal letter of apology and Bill Clinton begged him to stick with her, he did.

Voters must be mindful that Senator Manchin is still a card-carrying member and supporter of the Democratic Party.  These are the same people who support illegal immigration and physical harassment of their political opponents, and who claim that members of the MS-13 gang are misunderstood, all the while trying to restrict your right to own a gun.  Most damning, these are the same people who have actually put coal-miners on the unemployment line and their families on welfare because of their unsubstantiated fear of climate change.

If Manchin is re-elected, what does this mean for the future of West Virginia?

First and foremost, Joe will vote for a Democrat to lead the Senate, no matter how liberal that Democrat happens to be.  If Democrats take control of the Senate, this could lead to the impeachment of President Trump.  This could also make the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh a real possibility.  No matter the effect on West Virginia, these are acts of political power, and it is highly unlikely that Joe would bite the hand that funds him or vote against the people who help him stay in office.

Voters must also realize that the war on coal is not over, merely paused.  Democrats believe that global warming is the gravest threat to mankind outside the Republican Party, and coal is the biggest fossil fuel villain.  Expect them to attempt to find a way to shut the coal industry down once Trump is out of the way.  Natural gas may be next.

The only question is, will Senator Manchin silently acquiesce to the economic impoverishment of his native state, as he did when Obama was in office?  Or will a letter of apology be required?