No look at recycling in West Virginia, as today’s Daily Mail WV section does, would be complete without a story about West Virginia’s most flamboyant and entertaining — and possibly embarrassing — garbage fighter and long-term politician, the late A. James Manchin.
Anyone living in West Virginia during the last half of the 20th century had to know of Mr. Manchin, uncle of our senior U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Manchin became a household name across the state in 1973, when Republican Gov. Arch Moore appointed the Democrat to lead the Rehabilitation Environmental Action Program, or REAP, to rid the state’s mountains and fields of junked cars.
“Let us purge our proud peaks of these jumbled jungles of junkery,” says a poster distributed across the state at the time, showing Manchin exquisitely dressed in a white fedora hat and bow tie standing proudly among a pile of junked cars and trash. His expertise at showmanship could make some of today’s most showy entertainers envious.
Born in 1927 in Farmington, A. James earned a political science degree, then a master’s in education from West Virginia University, and became a teacher and coach.
He was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates at age 21, and served one term at that time. In 1949, he introduced legislation to provide equal rights in places of public accommodation and amusement and prescribed damages and penalties for violations, according to a biography on ourcampaigns.com. His vision on that issue in West Virginia would not pass until the civil rights movement of a dozen or so years later.
Taking advantage of his popularity with REAP, he won election as secretary of state in 1976 and served two terms. He traveled the state for every ceremony that he could.
He came to a sewage treatment plant accompanied by 12 trumpeters.
“He made that sewage plant seem like the biggest thing in the world,” then-Congressmen Ken Hechler said, according to a blogpost by John Cole, quoting the Charleston Gazette.
After two terms as secretary of state, Manchin was elected state treasurer, but took a fall from grace when the treasury lost hundreds of millions of dollars in investments under his watch. That issue brought about that state’s first impeachment trial, and his resignation.
But the ever-popular Manchin was re-elected to the House of Delegates in 1998, 2000, and 2002, where he served until is sudden death in 2003.
Said the Wheeling Intelligencer upon Manchin’s death, according to Cole: “The flamboyant, rotund politician sported a fedora and was a mix of contrasts and ironies. He was a pro-union Democrat who boasted of his birth in a United Mine Workers barracks — ‘one step below a log cabin’ — and also wore a black lapel ribbon to protest legalized abortion.”
Perhaps the best brief biography can be found from this Daily Mail editorial published Nov. 4, 2003, the day after his death.
Manchin: This funny, canny politician never stopped serving W.Va.
“Former state Treasurer A. James Manchin was one of the state’s most clever and interesting politicians.
“After more than 100 years of statehood, man had ruined the landscape by trashing it with junked cars tossed over the hillsides, hither and yon.
“Republican Gov. Arch Moore appointed Manchin as the director of the state’s new Rehabilitation Environmental Action Program, which began on Feb. 1, 1973.
“Manchin joked, pushed and shamed West Virginians into helping to clean up the state.
“His frequent tirades against that “Jezebel of Junkery” were as much about changing attitudes toward the state as they were about removing cars — or promoting himself.
“But Manchin ended up scoring on all three counts. The REAP program made his name a household word and served as his launching pad to two terms as secretary of state and two terms as state treasurer, the final term cut short by his impeachment over his role in huge investment losses.
“As for junkery, Manchin’s program removed more than 100,000 junked cars from the landscape in less than three years. His staffed wheeled a car crusher around the state.
“Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Manchin said in a 1990 interview: ‘That was the greatest program ever devised by humankind.’
“And that crusher was precious to my sight. That’s what I called it, ‘Precious Sight.’
“Above all, Manchin changed attitudes about the state. He injected in West Virginians more than a little pride and enthusiasm. His Captain of the Ship of State certificates reminded people of what a pleasure and honor it is to live in wild, wonderful West Virginia.
“He defended West Virginia against stereotypes spun by lazy Hollywood writers. Appalachians should not be thin-skinned, nor should they be the last minority in America that it is safe to mock.
“Manchin, like the state he loved, had his flaws. But he fought to change attitudes about how West Virginians treat their state and how West Virginians are treated. It was a great service.”
These days as we drive across the state’s roads and enjoy the pleasing views of uncluttered fields and beautiful mountains, perhaps we should thank A. James Manchin for his role in their beauty, considering he purged those peaks of their jumbled jungles of junkery.