Will Gov. Manchin have a pro-coal litmus test for Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s temporary replacement?

June 28, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

The news Sunday that Sen. Robert C. Byrd was in the hospital in very serious condition prompted some of the standard political speculation about Gov. Joe Manchin’s possible designs on Sen. Byrd’s seat, including from Salon.com and from FiveThirtyEight.

But also interesting, following the sad news this morning of Sen. Byrd’s passing, were these remarks in an Associated Press story in which Manchin said he had no plans to appoint himself to even temporarily replace The legendary senator:

Manchin says his decision will be an important one because of the effects climate change and mining debates in Congress and at the federal level will have on the state.

An important decision? Certainly. But Coal Tattoo readers know well that Gov. Manchin and Sen. Byrd didn’t exactly see eye to eye on climate change, mountaintop removal, or how our state should navigate the hurdles facing the future of our coal industry.

I asked Sara Payne, Manchin’s communications director, if the governor would have a litmus test for appointing a temporary successor to Byrd … would he pick only someone whose views on these matters mirror those of the governor?

The governor is not even thinking about an appointment right now … that is the furthest thing from his mind at this time. His focus is on honoring the senator and his contributions.

With that being said, it is my understanding that the governor was just speaking in general about how there are a lot of important things coming through Washington that directly relate to our state, and mining and climate are simply some examples.

I asked Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, about all of this. Bill emphasized:

The state has lost a great, great leader. He was just a real institution here in West Virginia. He was a great friend to the industry.

But Bill also acknowledged that industry “concern was mounting” over Sen. Byrd’s positions on mountaintop removal and greenhouse gas regulations, and that coal operators are hoping someone with “deep sensitivity” to the industry side of those issues ends up filling Sen. Byrd’s seat.

At the same time, environmental group leaders are both privately and publicly worried about the fact that Byrd’s strong voice is gone from debates over coal’s future.

Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, told me this morning:

To his credit, Sen. Byrd evolved on many issues, and he was a person who thought about things for himself and made decisions about what he thought was best for the people of the country and our state, and he came to see things differently regarding the coal industry and its relationship to the state.

It would be unfortunate for the state and the country if Gov. Manchin has a litmus test that anyone who replaces Sen. Byrd must side with the coal industry and against the people of the state and the country.

7 Responses to “Will Gov. Manchin have a pro-coal litmus test for Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s temporary replacement?”

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    I think Sara Payne was telling the technical truth when she said Manchin isn’t considering Byrd’s replacement “right now.” In point of fact, that scenario was taken care of long ago. It’s a machine that’s oiled and ready to start at the flip of a switch.

    Will there be a “pro-coal litmus test?” I think not, but only because Joe Manchin would never consider anyone who isn’t pro-coal. If that constututes a “litmus test” in its own right, then of course.

    Look for Earl Ray or someone similar who’s interested in running for Governor in ’12 to receive the nod. That frees Joe to run in ’12. Such is the nature of cold, calculated politics in this state.

    Whomever the temp is, and whomever the ’12 candidate, you may rest assured the person will be pro-coal all the way to his (or her toenails).

    Another interesting question is: in which is Rep. Capito more interested in ’12, the Senate or the Governor’s mansion?

  2. Let’s hope not. As you’ve pointed out elsewhere, Byrd did NOT give coal a free ride at the end of his life. See: http://bethwellington.blogspot.com/2010/06/senator-byrd-did-not-give-coal-free.html

  3. Judy Bonds says:

    The state of West Virginia and the entire country has lost a great leader that had the courage to tell the truth to the citizens at this great crossroads that we are standing in the middle of today.

  4. Phil Smith says:

    Joe Lovett’s got it wrong. You can be for coal and for the people of the state and the country. That’s what Sen. Byrd was. Despite what some want to believe, if you actually read what Sen. Byrd said the last few months, he wasn’t against coal. He wanted West Virginia to begin preparing for a day when coal won’t be as dominant in the state’s economy as it is now. That day will come at some point, so it makes sense to prepare for it.

    I would also point out that UMWA members in West Virginia are for coal and for the people of their state. Joe doesn’t have exclusivity on who is for the people and who isn’t.

  5. Scott14 says:

    Mr Steven Walker, this is the governor calling. I see you just sold your family business. Want a new job?

  6. Thomas Rodd says:

    These are fascinating suggestions and comments. Like the blind men and the elephant, each one has a different take or facet of the situation.

    Some one should be keeping a list with the names of the suggestions and suggestor. We could check back in a while and see who called it best.

    Governor Manchin would do well to select someone who truly reflects and will advocate for Governor Manchin’s statements about “balance.”

    Balance no doubt means a number of things, but it should include a firm response to attempts to deny, dodge, delay, and roll back safety and environmental protection. This attitude of balance is politically popular in West Virginia. Following Phil Smith’s lead, it’s what I hope for in Senator Byrd’s replacement.

    (But who asked me? — (smile.))

  7. Olivia at EDF says:

    If Governor Manchin’s main concern at the moment is to honor Senator Bryd and his accomplishments, it seems like the best way to do so is to appoint someone with similar ideological views. Yes, Senator Bryd was a friend of the coal industry, but also believed very strongly in the necessity of comprehensive climate change legislation. Manchin’s views differ from Bryds, but he should not let personal politics prevent him from respecting the memory of Bryd and the expectations of Bryd’s constituents, who elected a clean-energy supporter into office. Here is an ad released by the EDF urging Senator Rockefeller to vote for climate legislation. Bryds successor should do the same.

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