Blankenship Plans to Run for Senate in West Virginia

Updated on
  • Former Massey Energy chief convicted for 2010 mine explosion
  • Blankenship enters crowded GOP primary to run against Manchin

Blankenship exits the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia, on Dec. 3, 2015.

Photographer: Calvin Mattheis/Bloomberg

Donald Blankenship, the former Massey Energy chief executive who went to prison in the wake of a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29, plans to run for the U.S. Senate from West Virginia.

Blankenship is filing election papers Tuesday to run as a Republican, Greg Thomas, a political consultant for him, said in a phone interview. Television station WCHS first reported news.

In the Republican primary, Blankenship would face off against at least two other candidates, U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The winner would face incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in the 2018 election. 

Blankenship decided to run for office over Thanksgiving, Thomas said. In a Nov. 20 blog post, Blankenship said that a Senate campaign might be the "next and best approach" to continue his "campaign for the truth" concerning the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the industry’s worst disaster in a generation. 

Blankenship served a year in prison after being convicted of a misdemeanor charge for orchestrating a conspiracy to violate mine safety rules before that blast. 

Blames Regulations

He’s never admitted wrongdoing and continues to blame federal regulations for creating the environment that led to the blast. Repeated investigations have disagreed, concluding that the explosion was preventable and that Massey hadn’t taken basic safety measures. 

In an Oct. 3 post, Blankenship wrote that Manchin has failed to “successfully advocate for effective mine safety regulations.”

“We have every confidence the people of West Virginia will see through his pathetic attempts to blame others for his actions,” Phil Smith, a United Mine Workers of America spokesman said in an email when asked about Blankenship’s run. “They will render the same judgment on the criminal Don Blankenship that a West Virginia jury did: guilty as charged, and unworthy of holding any office.”

The former coal executive, who has referred to himself as an “American political prisoner,” has argued that his criticism of President Barack Obama and his support of Republican political candidates made him the target of a politically motivated case over the mine disaster.

Raised in West Virginia’s rural back country, Blankenship has been one of the coal industry’s loudest boosters, spending millions of dollars over the years backing state politicians and judges who might be friendly to coal and referring to global warming as a hoax. In May, he called on President Donald Trump to split the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration into two pieces.

While Blankenship has relocated -- at least part time -- to Nevada, he’s maintained his West Virginia residence and was on the ground in the state Wednesday, according to Thomas.

“Everyone has a right to run for public office," Morrisey said in a statement. "I welcome anyone into this contest, but I will continue to run on my positive record of obtaining conservative results for coal miners and West Virginia taxpayers, fighting for the unborn, protecting gun rights, and ridding the state of this terrible opioid epidemic.”

A spokesman for Manchin, who won his race in 2012 with 61 percent of the vote, declined to comment. A former state legislator and governor known as a moderate, Manchin has managed to remain popular in a state that has turned toward Republicans.

West Virginia is no stranger to coal bosses in higher office. Last year, Jim Justice, a coal and real estate mogul, was elected governor as a Democrat. In August, at a rally alongside Trump, Justice announced he’s switching to become a Republican. A week later, he said that Trump was "really interested" in his idea to create federal payments that would effectively bail out the state’s coal industry.

— With assistance by Sophia Pearson, and Jef Feeley

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