AP NEWS

Blankenship won’t go away quietly

May 4, 2019

Most West Virginians will never forget April 5, 2010, the date of the tragic Upper Big Branch mine explosion that took the lives of 29 coal miners. An entire state, region and profession mourned the loss of those lives and always will.

In the aftermath of the explosion, two primary narratives of what caused the disaster emerged.

The federal and state governments took the position that a general atmosphere of ignoring and/or circumventing safety rules by Massey Energy caused the incident.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 369 citations and assessed $10.9 million in penalties.

Massey, primarily through its CEO, Don Blankenship, maintained that adjustments mandated by the government actually caused the explosion. The back-and-forth debate became heated, particularly between Blankenship and Gov./U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Federal authorities indicted Blankenship on securities fraud, making false statements and conspiracy to willfully violate mine safety charges. He was found not guilty of all but the conspiracy allegation, a misdemeanor.

Since then, words between Manchin and Blankenship have become even harsher, to the point that the ex-CEO filed as a candidate for Manchin’s Senate seat last year.

Blankenship eventually placed third in the Republican primary. He tried unsuccessfully to change his party affiliation and run in the general as well.

Now, Mingo Countian Blankenship has filed a lawsuit in that county’s Circuit Court against Donald Trump Jr. The former CEO says there was a conspiracy to defeat him and Trump was a part of it. He specifically alleges Trump defamed him.

Blankenship is tenacious if nothing else. He will be an eternal thorn in Manchin’s side or anyone else who crosses him. As he notes in his lawsuit, Trump and others began to refer to him as a “felon” after he jumped ahead in polls taken a few days before the election. “Felon” the former CEO says, has a much more negative definition in most peoples’ minds.

Earlier, Blankenship said, “They saw me go ahead in the polls, and that triggered a conspiracy.”

Blankenship raises valid arguments in his lawsuit. I can’t wait to see the two Dons meet face-to-face in Williamson, which will likely never happen.

Are duels still legal?

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“It’s the economy, stupid,” may be true in a national campaign, as Bill Clinton consultant James Carville originally said. But I’ve seen enough West Virginia elections to know Mountain State residents have road conditions at the top of their list.

That’s yet another reason those labeling Gov. Jim Justice a dead duck in next year’s GOP gubernatorial race are just plain wrong.

Justice is out almost daily for the grand opening of some major roadway. Voters are noticing the work, and the governor’s poll numbers are going up. Sitting duck? More like feisty rooster.

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Former Cabell County Commissioner Bob Bailey tells me he is “back up to about 90 percent” healthwise. Bailey mentioned on election night when he lost to Republican Kelli Sobonya that health issues had curtailed his electioneering during the final weeks of the campaign.

“I wish I felt as good then as I do now,” said the longtime public servant this week.

Democrat Bailey added, “If I feel this good, I’ll run for (Huntington) council at large next year.”

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There’s widespread speculation that Commissioner Nancy Cartmill, a Republican, will not run for re-election due to health issues. That would open the door for a new member to join Democrat Jim Morgan and Sobonya, with the party majority resting on the outcome of the 2020 race.

I mentioned earlier that former Cabell Sheriff and Huntington Police Chief Kim Wolfe has told friends he will run for Cartmill’s seat if she does not. He is a Republican.

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Former legislator Larry Faircloth is said to be considering a run against incumbent 2nd District Rep. Alex Mooney in the 2020 Republican primary. Faircloth has run for statewide offices since retiring from the House. His son also served in the Legislature after his father retired.

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Some Democrat pundits are already conceding that Justice cannot be defeated in 2020. They are looking forward to 2024 when they think a female will become chief executive for the first time in history - either Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin or former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

If it’s one of those two, my guess is that it will be Goodwin.

Contact Ron Gregory at 304-533-5185 or ronjgregory@gmail.com.