This debate was the second of four gubernatorial debates held in West Virginia last week between incumbent Governor Joe Manchin, Senator Russ Weeks, and Mountain Party candidate for Governor Jesse Johnson.
Blocked out of the first and only statewide network televised gubernatorial debate, the balloted third party candidate Jesse Johnson shakes a few leaves off that two-party tree in this one hour debate held in Hedgesville, West Virginia. This debate was hosted by WEPM, a news/sports/talk radio station in West Virginia.
As the only candidate opposing Mountain Top Removal (MTR), Johnson provided relief to the protesting environmentalists in the crowd, many of whom had come to voice their objections to “The Path”, a high-voltage power line that would carve a 10,000 acre line through private properties in order to accelerate delivery of coal-powered energy to the East Coast states. While “the Path” is a federally mandated program, many see the current Governor as complicit in the sacrifice of West Virginia for the use of energy corporations.
There are a couple of interesting points to observe in the radio station’s reporting of the debate on its website, the most important of which is the exclusion of the discussion of MTR. A recent poll indicated that most West Virginians are against MTR, as well they should be given the level of contaminants dumped into the headwaters by profit-driven coal companies and the ensuing air pollution created by the burning of the coal. Instead, the station reported that the retention of teachers was the major topic discussed, which, while provocative, was not the heated point of opposition during the debate.
Hedgesburg is about a 5 hour drive from the state capitol Charleston and it sits in the upper east panhandle. It was once a sleepy rural area but has become a booming bedroom community for Washington D.C. commuters, who are transient in their commitment to West Virginia and unaware of the rest of the state’s history. The state’s history with coal mining has effected its politics for generations. It was a state made up of company towns in which a culture of obedience and isolation made it difficult for people to organize. This foundation of corporate control still permeates and aggravates the already dire conditions in which many live in the mid and Southern sections of the state.
One might wonder why the debate was not held in a more populated area so that the theater that held four hundred might at least be a quarter filled. Then again, it might be all too evident.