Coal Country Con Man Running for Senate

March 27, 2018


Paul Krugman:

In 2010 an explosion at a coal mine operated by Massey Energy killed 29 men. In 2015 Don Blankenship, the company’s former C.E.O., was sent to prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards. In 2018, Blankenship appears to have a real chance at becoming the Republican candidate for senator from West Virginia.

Blankenship is one of four Republicans with criminal convictions running for office this year, several of whom may well win their party’s nominations. And there is a much broader list of Republican politicians facing credible accusations of huge ethical lapses who nonetheless emerged victorious in G.O.P. primaries, ranging from Roy Moore to, well, Donald Trump.

To be sure, there have been plenty of crooked Democrats. But usually the revelation of their crookedness ended their political careers. What’s striking about today’s Republican landscape is that people who are obvious crooks, con men or worse continue to attract strong support from the party’s base. Moore narrowly lost in Alabama’s special election, but he received 91 percent of the votes of self-identified Republicans.

And Trump, although unprecedentedly unpopular for a president at this stage of his term, continues to receive overwhelming support from the G.O.P. base. Some Republican politicians have openly admitted that this makes the party’s congressional wing unwilling to hold Trump accountable for even the most spectacular malfeasance, up to and including possible collusion with a hostile foreign power.

And this sustained reliance on the big con has, over time, exerted a strong selection effect both on the party’s leadership and on its base. G.O.P. politicians tend disproportionately to be con men (and in some cases, con women), because playing the party’s political game requires both a willingness to and a talent for saying one thing while doing another. And the party’s base consists disproportionately of the easily conned — those who are easily fooled by claims that Those People are the problem and don’t notice how much the true Republican agenda hurts them.

Here’s the third implication, which should scare you: The nature of the modern G.O.P.’s game gives it a bias against democracy. After all, one way to protect yourself against voters who figure out what you’re up to is to stop them from voting. Vote suppression and extreme gerrymandering are already key parts of Republican strategy, but what we’ve seen so far may be just the beginning.


Despite multiple investigations finding that the Big Branch explosion was due to a buildup of coal dust that resulted from lax safety procedures, Blankenship continues to claim — with no evidence — that all the investigators were wrong, and, as you’d expect from a guy who gives robber barons a bad name, actually blames federal regulators for the mine disaster. Blankenship was sentenced in 2015 to a whole year in prison on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety regulations. The jury found him not guilty on two felony charges (securities fraud and lying to federal investigators) that could have put him away for up to 30 years, but even that year in minimum security prompted Blankenship to declare himself a political prisoner. You see, he was such a terrific, powerful spokesman for Big Coal that Barack Obama had to silence him by sending him to the Gulag.

And now he wants to run for Senate to clear his name, because with The A Team cancelled, isn’t that what the US Senate is all about? In a deranged November 20 blog post, Blankenship once again airs his grievances about the vast conspiracy against him, and speculates that maybe the Senate is exactly where he needs to be to help make coal great again, because Don Blankenship is the only one who really cares about mine safety:

We have not decided our next and best approach to continuing our campaign for the truth, for the memory of the fallen miners and for the safety and sake of todays working miners. I am still considering whether running for U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s seat would benefit our truth campaign. Some things are certain. If I were a United States Senator coal miners would be safer, I would not declare people guilty before a trial, I would not say that those accused of a crime do not deserve a fair trial, I would not favor treating Americans more harshly when they exercise their right to free speech, and I would criticize government agencies when they have caused deaths of miners.



His vehement, if soft-spoken, speech was received enthusiastically by the one person in the audience who was not a member of his staff, a reporter covering the event or a tracker paid by Blankenship’s opponents to videotape the event. The middle-aged woman told Blankenship she liked what he had to say, and she’d be supporting him in the primary. For months, Blankenship has been appearing at these town halls (he wants to do at least one in all 55 counties in West Virginia) in a quest to unseat second-term Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin. The spreads of food have always been lavish, even if the crowds haven‘t.

Admittedly, this part of the state was not his power base when he was the bottom-line-driven CEO of Massey Energy, one of the state’s largest mining companies. (“I used to come up here to sell coal,” he told me later in an interview. “Before Obama.”) But the almost nonexistent turnout seemed about right for a man who just three years ago had a statewide approval rating of 10 percent, lower even than Congress, the standard for disdain. In 2015, when he was sentenced to a year in prison on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards in the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine, three-fifths of people surveyed thought the judge should have put him away for longer.

Initially, Blankenship had told prison officials that upon his release he planned to move to Nevada, where his girlfriend lives. Instead, on January 23 he signed the papers to challenge Manchin. A 67-page manifesto he had written in prison decrying his political persecution by the Obama Justice Department effectively became his political platform. The idea that a former inmate who many view as an unrepentant murderer would dare to run for Senate seemed laughable at first, even to members of his own party.

At times, he’s embraced his image as a villain, calling himself “the most hated man in Mingo County.” In a video on his website, a much younger Blankenship describes his ideology, a no-holds-barred capitalism. He calls himself an “American Competitionist.”

“It’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest,” he says in the video. “Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have learn and to accept that in the United States is a capitalist society. And that capitalism, from a business viewpoint, is survival of the most productive.”



8 Responses to “Coal Country Con Man Running for Senate”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” applies to Blankenship and the voters of West Virginia (to say nothing of Trump supporters everywhere) who will shoot off their own toes in order to be “right”. Another sign of the “end times”.

  2. sailrick Says:

    Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest United States coal company, described his critics as “communists,” “atheists,” and “greeniacs.” In an address before the Tug Valley Mining Institute in Williamson, WV, Blankenship said those who criticize him are “our enemies” like Osama bin Laden:

    Blankenship has spent millions of dollars to influence West Virginia judgeships and state legislative races, and palled around in Monte Carlo with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard and their “female friends” in July 2006. The state court reversed a $77 million verdict against Massey in 2008.

  3. sailrick Says:

    In 2000, a subsidiary of Massey Energy had a 300 million gallon spill of black toxic sludge from a coal processing plant in Kentucky ( nearly 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill). The EPA called it the worst environmental disaster in the history of the southeastern United States. The water of 27,000 people was contaminated. A plume of sludge extented 75 miles to the Ohio River. There was an investigation by MSHA that was squelched after Bush’s election. The investigators were ready to proceed with 8 serious violations, with possible criminal charges. The lead investigator was reassigned, and demoted then fired.

    He was replaced with another, who on the first day said he would close the investigation within a week. He later got a seat on the board of directors of Massey Energy. It probably didn’t hurt that the coal industry and Massey Energy virtually won W. Virginia for Republicans in an upset victory, after contributing heavily to the campaign.

    Massey Energy got off with a $55,000 fine.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Can you spell “corrupt”?

      I know a lot of good people here in NO VA whose roots lie in W VA. They came to VA to escape the dying towns in W VA, the places where the worst opioid epidemic in the country is now finishing the job. Can you spell “karma”?

      • Sir Charles Says:

        Karma is a fairy tale for people who cannot accept that life is finite.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Sir Chucky just can’t resist attacking for no discernible reason—-a sign of his insecurity and feelings of inferiority. In ordinary usage in the USA, “Karma” simply means whatever you do comes back on you as punishment or reward—-if you do bad things, bad things will bite you in the ass, if you do good things, life in the HERE AND NOW will be better. No religion or fairy tales involved, although that’s where it all began.

          Too bad Chucky doesn’t understand this—-he is building up some bad “karma” here on Crock, and may soon get his “reward”.

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