I've been wanting to avoid all this bleak West Virginia news, but I just can't do that and consider myself an honest person. Last week, a Harvard grad student found that my home state is the most racist in the country. And yesterday, we learned that the state's top three Democrats will be skipping the Democratic convention.
Gosh. Do you think point one and point two could be somehow related?
There was a time when West Virginia was a fairly progressive state. In the old days, of course, by which I mean let's say back when I was born, there were north of 100,000 United Mine Workers members in the state. I'm not saying they were reading C. Wright Mills and the Port Huron Statement, but they voted Democratic by gum. The state's Supreme Court back then, when my father was a leading member of the state bar, was one of the country's more liberal and enjoyed a good national reputation.
In the 1970s, some things changed. The Southern Baptist church started putting down roots in the state (and a few others around the same time). I once looked this up, but in roughly a generation's time, the state went from having fewer than 10 Southern Baptist churches to more than 300 (and surely more now, as it's been a while since I did that research). A mid-70s big textbook battle in the capital city of Charleston over the usual things, science and God, augured what was coming.
Labor, of course, started to collapse. Today, or last I checked, there were fewer than 10,000 UMW members in the state. Yet more coal is being extracted today--with a fraction of the men--than was coming out of those mountains when I was a kid. Mountaintop removal, of course, is one of reasons why. It has attracted international condemnation, and rightly so. But it's all some people have, and it's just a tragic situation.
But that doesn't excuse this, especially the politicians' cowardice. Just so you know that there are some people in the state who don't think like that, here are a few commenters from the thread at the Charleston Gazette, still a very good newspaper:
We need to distance ourselves from Manchin and get a strong leader in that position, that will do what we say, not what they want. Now is the time to get rid of the good ole boys club
"Organized Stupidity" is worse than "Organized Crime."
Cowards. Poor leaders. Pandering fools. What has happened to the Mountain State? Along with our once beautiful hills now goes our dignity. Shame on Tomblin. Shame on Manchin. Shame on the man I once thought was a labor hero. What's happened to you Nick? Welcome to Valley Filled; West Virginia. I'm Ross Ballard. One of the last true democrats. I hearby mark null and void all comments without real names. Spit-balling from weeds identified only by a screen name is just, well...so Republican.
Idiots. I am embarrassed for all of us.
Props, however, to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who, reports my friend Ry Rivard at the Charleston Daily Mail (yes, Charleston, WV has two newspapers!), plans to go:
She said West Virginia voters would not vote against other Democrats on Election Day because they dislike Obama.
"I think that you're insulting voters in West Virginia when you don't think they are going to separate candidates, because we do that all time," Tennant said in a telephone interview.
She said she disagrees with Manchin, Tomblin and even her husband, state Sen. Erik Wells, on certain issues but that she still plans to vote for each of them because of their overall record.
Of course, it's not really about these politicians. They're doing what they're doing out of fear, and alas it's a well-placed fear. Is it because Obama's policies have harmed the state so greatly? Huh, interesting little fact here--the state's jobless rate is 6.9 percent, way below the national average, and the 20th lowest of the 50 states. So it must be something else. Gee...
You know, I don't expect anything out of Manchin et al. The two men I'd like to see step up here are Bobby Huggins and Dana Holgorsen, the basketball and football coaches, who both head nationally prominent teams that are beloved in the state and are full of young black men whom these same West Virginians have no trouble cheering for on the field of play. Huggs and Holgs, as we call them, are in a position to say something to the people, and they could do it without getting into political endorsements. Just an artful couple of sentences about how if nothing else, this kind of thing hurts recruiting. People will understand that.
They have more moral authority in the state than the politicians. I'd love to see them use it.
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