West Virginia Mountain Party Gubernatorial Candidate Shakes Up Two Party System

Special by Babette Hogan

updated version

The West Virginia Gubernatorial race is heating up – and it’s coal powered.

Jesse Johnson, the West Virginia Mountain Party’s candidate for Governor, matches up against the incumbent (d) Joe Manchin and (R)Senator Russ Weeks in this Public Broadcasting Debate.

Johnson is the only gubernatorial candidate of the three who is against the coal mining practice of Mountain Top Removal (MTR) and espouses a citizens’ extraction dividend, universal health care and free education, amongst other policies deemed unfriendly to big business. He was denied entry to the West Virginia Broadcast Assn., the first and most widely broadcast statewide debate, which pre-empted programming on three network channels. The WVBA defended their choice to exclude the third party candiate on the grounds that the Republican and Democrat were having a “private news event”. Published polls fail to indicate that the ballot qualified third party is even in the race, despite an overwhelming number of people being against MTR, according to a recent poll cited in the Charleston Gazette.

A discerning listener may notice that Johnson has to wait a rather long spell to be invited into the conversation between Governor Manchin, who is widely perceived as a “Dixiecrat” with several scandals floating around him, and pro-unborn life Weeks, who is willing to face up to Manchin, yet remains skeptical of progressive ideals. (Weeks likens Mountain Top Removal to an ” act of Mother Nature”, satisfied that eventually good things will come of MTR, like golf courses, shopping malls and developed communities.)

The first question asked of Johnson has nothing to do with policy, but reads, instead, like a third grade test of state emblems.

The host attempts a gotcha moment. “Could you name three people who you would appoint to Cabinet if you were actually to be elected Governor and why you would pick those people.” Johnson’s response, “I believe I probably could name three people, but if I’m not mistaken, you’re not supposed to be making those decision prior to the election and it’s against protocol and against the law in West Virginia.”

“Let me take another tack on that. Can you name three of the state cabinet posts?” Now, the video of this “debate” is not posted, only the audio, but if you could have seen it, as I had, you would have noticed how remarkably calm and polite Johnson remained in the face of his intelligence being insulted. Curtly after, the host reengages Weeks and Manchin in a policy question.

I was in the press conference room and the two local stations reporters mouths dropped with astonishishment when they heard the obvious bias of the reporter. However, this may not be entirely the host’s own prejudice. Manchin, as the self-appointed head of Public Broadcasting in West Virginia, does have some control.

Earlier in the day, while walking to a local breakfast diner past a park smattered with homeless people, I happened upon a church where a town car sat, a state trooper pacing outside. It was Sunday and service had started. I waited until the service and feast ended for the appearance of what I suspected would be Governor Manchin. Indeed, he did appear and when I approached him he set his face in a practiced friendly public performance smile. I asked him as he walked firmly to his polished coal black car, “Governor, what do you think about the recent report of vote switching in the early voting booths.” He marched sternly on with a grimacing smile, “You should go inside (the Church) and try some baklava.”

While I admit that addressing someone about politics after they have come out of Church might appear disrespectful, it wasn’t his church; he was just polticking. So, I ask again Governor, “Those machines that you bought when you were Secretary of State, doesn’t it concern you that they are apparently switching the vote?”

We had a chance to interview Manchin and Weeks after the debate, but both candidates refused. Manchin then cornered Johnson in one side of the room, keeping his back to us enforcing his view that MTR was essential. Weeks, wearing the soft silver new-born feet pin of a pro-lifer/anti-choicer, refused because of his concern that “environmentalists” misrepresent him.

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