Two of West Virginia’s political leaders, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Gov. Jim Justice, have received a lot of national media coverage recently.
No one from the African American community was interviewed or consulted regarding the perception of this constituency about these politicians or their positions. West Virginians are not a monolith and the world needs to be aware that many residents of the state disagree with these men.
There is a different felt experience from people of color and many progressives in the Mountain State.
Living in West Virginia as a person of color or as a progressive can often be like shouting into a fan. You know your felt experience but to those on the other side of the fan, the experience comes out garbled and distorted.
West Virginia has progressive bona fide’s that should not be ignored. The Mountain State was the area where workers rights were strengthened through the establishments of unions to counteract the abuses of the mining industry. Politically, the world remembers the long serving conservative West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat, who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act but made a decided change toward racial reconciliation later in his life.
Unfortunately, few remember that the other Senator from the state during much of this time was Jennings Randolph, a staunch progressive and thoughtful Christian. Sen. Randolph voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1960, 1964, and 1968, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing the racist poll tax and was the author and supporter of significant environmental legislation.
Much of West Virginia’s decidedly conservative right turn has occurred during the last 25 years or so.
While there are many reasons for this slide into conservatism, the career of Manchin, who is a nice person, has unfortunately coincided with the diminishing of progressive politics in the state.
Before national Democrats allow Manchin’s stances to hold influence and hamper President Joe Biden’s initiatives, it would be wise to remember how this “nice guy’s” so-called bipartisan positions have helped errode West Virginia’s Democratic Party.
In 1996, Manchin was defeated in the Democratic gubernatorial primary by progressive Charlotte Pritt by just under 7 points.
Instead of backing the ground-breaking, progressive Democratic nominee, Manchin and other “Democrats for Cecil Underwood,” undermined her campaign. This included proliferating a claim that Pritt was anti-gun even though she was a longstanding member of the NRA.
In 2016, rather than backing long serving Democrats, Manchin endorsed billionaire Jim Justice’s run for office as a Democrat even though he had previously been a Republican. Manchin later said he “felt sad” for those who supported Justice when a year after taking office, the governor switched back to being a Trump Republican.
Wonder if Manchin felt sadness when Gov. Justice called the predominately African American Beckley Girls Basketball team “thugs” or when Justice said that President Obama would not be welcome in West Virginia? Again, no word from Manchin on these atrocious statements.
Manchin’s late uncle, the flamboyant A. James Manchin, strongly supported the African American community in West Virginia throughout his political career. In the 1940’s, A. James Manchin introduced House Bill 205, which provided equal rights in places of public accommodation and amusement and prescribed damages and penalties for violations. During his one term in the House of Representatives he stood with and for African Americans in the quest for civil rights.
Joe Manchin rode the civil rights coattails of his late uncle and has often been given an undeserved pass in the area of social justice. During his time as Governor and Senator, Manchin’s civil rights record is weak aside from proclamations and the presentation of awards and certificates. While Manchin was governor, the Stonewall Jackson Confederate Monument continued to be on the Statehouse grounds and as Senator, Manchin was often quick to unfairly criticize President Obama to placate a racist portion of his base.
Even more recently, Manchin had the gall to condemn Vice President Kamala Harris for accepting a television interview in the state and an interview with the Gazette-Mail without his “permission.”
At this point Manchin is the only Democrat in the state’s entire congressional delegation. Manchin’s so-called bipartisanship has assisted in costing his party all of the statewide offices once held by Democrats — governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and agricultural commissioner.
The absolute final straw for me is Manchin’s recent op-ed where he absolutely refuses to consider abolishing or even weakening the Jim Crow era filibuster. This is the same filibuster that was so often used to curtail civil rights legislation like his predecessor, Sen. Byrd, used against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
When Manchin says that he is looking out for West Virginia, remember that does not include me and many other people of color, many progressives and the working poor who needed the $15 per hour minimum wage he opposed.
Manchin’s insistence on receiving Republican input for President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package caused the bill to be weakened and still no Republicans, not one, voted for the final package.
It’s time for Manchin’s influence in the national Democratic party to be curtailed before he diminishes it the way that he has helped demolish the Democratic party in West Virginia.