The Tennant Campaign
Wasn’t someone in the Tennant campaign aware that it probably wasn’t a good idea to hold a rally on the steps of a courthouse without first checking if it was allowed under the election law? (I would think that someone might have checked with the person in charge of elections over at the Secretary of State's office. Ah. . . . never mind.) Didn't someone realize how this might play with newspapers looking for Tennant campaign scandals? Isn’t there anyone in the Tennant campaign who makes sure the candidate doesn’t do something stupid like this? The answer to all of the above is "apparently not."
Oftentimes, the winner in an election devoid of substantive issue differences like this one is the candidate who did or said the fewest dumb things. In this election, Capito’s campaign staff seems to understand this much better than Tennant’s. For example, after Capito made her statement about climate change following the first debate, someone in her campaign realized that debates hold too many opportunities for making incredibly dumb statements. ("Is the climate changing? Yes, it’s changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there.") Consequently, Capito conveniently had another commitment when the next debate was scheduled. Natalie Tennant probably wasn't going to win this election anyway but this gaffe probably insured it.
Draw your own conclusions
After third party candidates were excluded from last Tuesday’s senatorial debate, WV Public Broadcasting announced a second debate for this Friday in which all candidates would be invited. Shelley Moore Capito has other plans, however, and will not participate. According to the Charleston Gazette:
"We wanted to give all the candidates a chance to debate each other, if they wish," (WV Public Broadcasting Executive Director) Finn said of scheduling a second debate, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday and is set to air on WVPB television and radio stations at 7 p.m. Friday. "We never heard back from the Capito campaign one way or another," he said.
Late Friday afternoon, Capito campaign spokeswoman Amy Graham said Capito would not take part in the debate because of a previously scheduled bus tour. According to a schedule sent out by her campaign last week, the seven-term congresswoman will be on a business tour of Fletcher Mining Equipment, in Huntington, at 10 a.m. Friday.
Finn said Public Broadcasting offered several options for the day and time of the taping of the debate, and four candidates — Democrat Natalie Tennant, Libertarian John Buckley, the Mountain Party’s Bob Henry Baber and the Constitution Party’s Phil Hudok— agreed on Friday.
Note that there was nothing about the upcoming debate in this morning’s "newspaper" and it will be interesting to see how they eventually spin Capito’s non-participation. Imagine how they might criticize Tennant had she chosen not to participate: "Democrat Natalie Tennant, probably on orders from Harry Reid and Michele Obama, says she is too busy to allow the good citizens of West Virginia a few minutes of her time so that they might fairly assess her candidacy."
A final note – you can submit a question for possible use in the debate here.
A quick reaction to the debate
It was better than I expected although my bar was not set that high. The questions covered the expected topics and a few others I didn't expect like the Ryan Budget and the minimum wage. Hoppy Kercheval kept them moving and even pressed them sometimes to answer the question. I wish he would have pushed back more as both candidates dodged far too many questions relying instead on familiar campaign sound bites. Both candidates also spent a lot of their time attacking their opponent which didn't surprise me. I doubt that either candidate changed very many minds.
Please feel free to make a comment about the debate - just click on "read all."
A busy week for me
I'll be very busy with a number of other things through the weekend and so I've decided to take a short vacation from the blogging. Look for more "Wheeling alternative" early next week.
The battle of the oh-so-similar sound bites
If you read yesterday’s news story about tomorrow’s debate between Tennant and Capito you are probably aware that the debate’s sponsors (WV Public Broadcasting, the state AARP, and the WV Press Association) have decided to limit the debate to just Tennant and Capito. Given the similarity of their stated positions on most issues, the major question for me is whether this will be a debate where important matters of future policy are actually argued and counter-argued or just an endless stream of sound bites. The future of coal? The EPA? Gun control? Obama and his policies other than health care? Where’s the disagreement? (Okay, they disagree on budget cuts and student loans but I'm sure that won't be the crux of the debate.) What the citizens of the state will most likely see is an hour's worth of subtle and not-so-subtle name-calling. That's not a debate, that's a Dr. Phil program.
The problem with this affair is that the alternative voices with clearly different policy options have been excluded from the debate. Look at what might have been discussed if the sponsors had allowed the third party candidates to participate. The Libertarian candidate wants to get rid of most federal programs which might have forced the two major candidates to discuss what is the essential role of the Federal government? The Constitution candidate wants to restore our Christian heritage which might have led to a discussion of the role of religion in American politics. And finally and maybe, most importantly, the Mountain Party candidate opposes mountaintop removal and wants us to transition from coal to alternative sources. Since a majority of West Virginians are opposed to mountaintop removal, it would have been interesting to hear a response from the two major candidates on this issue. But since they both support MR, I doubt the issue will even come up. And will either candidate mention "alternative sources of energy"? Not unless they want become a part of the "war on coal." The real future of coal in WV and elsewhere is bleak and it needs to be discussed but it won’t be at this debate. That's too bad.
According to yesterday’s article, the AARP criteria says a party needs to have garnered at least 5% in the previous election for it to be included in a debate. Isn't that a self-fulfilling prophecy or a "catch-22?" (If you can't participate, you'll never reach 5% and if you can't reach 5%, you can't participate. How then, do you get to 5%?) The Democrats and Republicans won't complain about eliminating the competition and the AARP, which certainly doesn’t speak for all seniors, has a great deal invested in insuring that only Dems and Repubs are elected. Finally, some of the newspapers who belong to the state association have already chosen their winner and support their choice in obvious and not-so-obvious ways - they don't want anything that might cause some dissonance. West Virginia needs to get to the 21st century. It won't, however, as long as the two parties are allowed to dominate the marketplace of ideas.
Update - October 7
It appears that the Mountain Party is not going away quietly. From this morning’s Charleston Gazette:
Supporters of the Mountain Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate plan to rally at the Clay Center tonight to protest Bob Henry Baber’s exclusion from a Senate candidate debate that will be broadcast statewide.
In the article, the AARP’s Tom Hunter explained the decision to exclude the third party candidates:
It’s tough for candidates to have a substantive discussion on the issues . . . if you have five or six individuals sharing time in an hour-long debate.
Maybe the candidates will surprise me, but I have my doubts that tonight’s debate will feature a "substantive discussion on the issues." Hunter also said that the AARP’s criteria "wasn’t intended in any way to stifle third-party candidates." (The Gazette did not report whether Hunter said this with a straight face.)
Finally, the Gazette also noted that the state’s public broadcasting network will air another debate later this month in which all of the candidates will be invited. (My memory is that there was to be only one debate – maybe complaining and protesting does make a difference.)
It certainly didn’t take long for Republicans and their Wheeling mouthpieces to quickly pile on Natalie Tennant for having led the State Election Commission in voting to keep Republican Marie Sprouse-McDavid off the ballot. That said, when I read the WV Supreme Court’s decision and the attacks on Tennant, something didn’t make sense to me. This is a five-person commission that is made-up of Democratic and Republican citizens along with Tennant. Robert Rupp, a Republican, is chair. (Local readers may remember Rupp as the WV delegate to the last Republican convention who filed a number of stories about the convention for our local "newspapers.") I saw that the vote was unanimous and wondered if the arguments were so strong that even the Republicans on the committee voted to keep her off the ballot? As the Charleston Gazette, who actually did talk to Rupp, explains:
Robert Rupp, chairman of the Election Commission, said Wednesday he was disappointed the court did not take into consideration the extenuating circumstances in Raines’ withdrawal, including her failure to appear before the commission to request permission to end her candidacy.
"I would just say we followed at the time what we believed was the law, and what was legally right," said Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College and one of the Republican members of the commission.
Why didn’t our local "newspapers" in all their outrage ask Republican Rupp what happened? (I don’t think that they really wanted to know.)
Taking this a step further is an article in Saturday’s Charleston paper by Phil Kabler. Kabler explains what happened in the case and then speculates whether this might all have been a deliberate strategy to embarrass Tennant.
Indeed, the attorneys general representing the Election Commission sent a letter to the GOP’s attorneys on Aug. 26 advising that while there was no way that the commission itself could waive the 30-day notice requirement, it noted: "We recognize the desirability and practical necessity of reaching a swift resolution of these claims, as they impact an upcoming election that is only 70 days away."
In the letter, the attorneys offer to join a petition to the Supreme Court seeking a waiver, "in the interest of fundamental fairness."
Instead, the GOP displayed all the clock management prowess of Coach Dana Holgorsen, allowing the calendar to run past the deadline for printing ballots, and then past the deadline to mail absentee ballots to voters overseas and in the military.
I called GOP Executive Director Conrad Lucas a couple of days before the ballot-printing deadline, and was somewhat astonished to learn the party had decided to let the 30 days run out without seeking court intervention.
But then, at the last minute, the Republicans changed their mind and the case was brought to the Supreme Court who ordered Sprouse-McDavid to be placed on the ballot.
The delay surely didn’t help Sprouse-McDavid, who enters the general election race a month after the seven other candidates left the starting gate.
However, the timing about a month before the general election was impeccable on behalf of the Capito campaign, which already had a campaign spot airing that attempts to raise questions about Natalie Tennant’s competency as Secretary of State.
It may be no coincidence that the most vitriolic concurring opinion came from Republican Justice Allen Loughry, who accused Tennant and the Election Commission of either "inexplicable ignorance" of the law, or a "brazen refusal" to abide by it.
He also contended that because of their inaction, ballots will have to be reprinted and re-mailed at "considerable taxpayer expense" — which segues perfectly into the Capito attack ad. (And also ignores the reality that the expense could also have been avoided had the Republican Party gotten to court in August instead of the last day of September.)
Interesting – it’s certainly a different perspective from what the Wheeling "newspapers" would have you believe.
Another "guilt by association" editorial: "Tennant Claims Not Believable"
Didn’t I read this same editorial last week and two-weeks ago, last month and two months ago?
Yes, I did. It says that no real West Virginian could possibly vote for Natalie Tennant because Michele Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and, of course, "ultra-liberal" (obviously Michael Myer wrote this) Harry Reid all support her. The only thing that makes this different from previous editorials/Myer columns is the addition of Debbie Stabenow (D, Michigan) who apparently made the mistake of being both a Democrat and supporting Tennant. Yeah, and isn’t she the politician who said: "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that (coal) plant — that plant kills people." No wait, that was Mitt Romney who was in WV last month campaigning for Capito. See, anybody can play "guilt by association" in a political campaign – it’s also the lazy way to write an editorial.
What a terrible election campaign. Despite what Myer and the "newspapers" keep editorializing, there is very little, if any, difference between the two candidates on the issues of coal and guns which apparently are the most important issues in this campaign. The local editorials never give us concrete reasons for supporting Capito (other than pointing out that she is not a Democrat) nor do they explain what she has accomplished beyond supporting fossil fuel industries and voting against Obamacare. And rather than dealing with what Tennant actually says, all we ever get from the editors is personal attacks on her (she can’t be trusted) because Democrats support her (as though this explains anything). And Natalie Tennant, for her part, keeps trying to out-Capito Capito – a losing strategy if there ever was one.
What do the candidates think about a potential war in the Mideast, a jobless economic recovery, widening income inequality, racism, the immigration issue, and the success of Obamacare? I don’t know. Maybe we will find out next week when they debate. I wouldn’t count on it, however.
Paging Dr. Freud
On Wednesday, the National Rifle Association endorsed Shelley Moore Capito for West Virginia. Since both candidates have received "A" grades from the organization, it was probably a tough decision. The NRA endorsement brought a flurry of battle shots from both sides as both Capito and Tennant issued statements to demonstrate why they were so much more pro-gun than their opponent.
"The outcome of this election is critical to preserving our Second Amendment freedom, and I promise that no one is going to fight harder for our constitutional rights," Ms. Capito said. "While others talk the talk, I walk the walk. I’m humbled and honored that the lt National Rifle Association is supporting me."
"West Virginia gun owners are putting their trust in Natalie Tennant, because they know that while Congresswoman Capito is more likely to be seen carrying a tennis racket than a gun, Natalie Tennant actually holds a concealed carry permit and grew up shooting guns her whole life, just like them," said Tennant spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue.
"She owns an exact replica of the Mountaineer muzzleloader today, which she proudly displays above her desk in the secretary of state’s office when she isn’t carrying it at fairs and festivals," the Tennant campaign said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the front page of the Charleston Gazette noted that the United Mine Workers on Labor Day had endorsed Natalie Tennant for United States Senate. After reading the article, I wondered how long it would take before our local "newspapers" mentioned it. The next morning Casey Junkins in the Intelligencer wrote an even-handed report on the endorsement including a response from both camps. Not surprising, at least from my perspective, was a long editorial in the same issue: "Miners Can Trust Capito" which takes Tennant to task for being a Democrat. (As the editorial notes: she has supported the President in the past, she will likely support Harry Reid if elected, and perhaps worst of all, Michelle Obama has endorsed her.)
Despite the editorial, I knew that we were not done with this matter. And so we move to this Saturday’s Intelligencer column by Mike Myer: "Miners Will Make Up Own Minds."
The column is a typical Myer column filled with cheap shots and very little evidence. After an opening shot at union leaders, Myer questions whether the election was held democratically:
UMWA officials insist the decision to endorse Natalie Tennant for the Senate from West Virginia was driven by union members, not their leaders.
Absent votes at UMWA locals throughout the state, it's impossible to prove or disprove that.
No, it isn’t. Here is how the UMWA press release describes the process:
The union’s endorsement came after a long internal process, starting with a poll of UMWA membership conducted by Hart Research Associates earlier this year that showed Tennant was the clear choice over her opponent, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R), among UMWA members in West Virginia. The West Virginia State Council of COMPAC voted to endorse Tennant by a 37-1 margin prior to the National Council’s action last week.
Myer then blames Tennant for being a Democrat:
Was she standing up for miners when she urged Mountain State residents to re-elect the president?
Talk is cheap. And that's all Tennant has done in claiming she will oppose Obama.
Here’s a thought. If she’s elected, she could simply ask Joe Manchin how it’s done.
And if you’ve read recent Myer’ columns, you know that no attack is complete without a Harry Reid mention:
Standing up for coal means voting against Harry Reid for Senate majority leader - and Tennant refuses to say she will do that.
(What is this right wing obsession with Harry Reid – he’s only the majority leader for God’s sakes! Isn’t he doing what any majority leader does when the President is in the same party?)
And what about Capito?
During her time in Congress, Capito, R-W.Va., has done much to help miners and other working West Virginians.
Like consistently voting against Obamacare that makes sure that all (working or otherwise) West Virginia’s have some type of basic health care? House Republicans, including Capito, have voted to end Obamacare at least 54 times. Earlier this year at her West Liberty University-sponsored political rally, she asserted that "everybody is unhappy" with Obamacare. When asked later about whether the 100,000+ West Virginia who now had basic health care would be unhappy, she dodged the question.
And what about the miners? Perhaps the miners recall Capito’s 2010 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to block efforts by Democratic leaders to force a vote on a major mine safety reform bill. (The Democrats had tried to suspend House rules and force a vote on the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act.) As Ken Ward describes:
The vote was 214 to 193, with 26 members not voting, well short of the two-thirds needed for the rules suspension.
According to the official roll call vote, only one Republican voted to bring up the bill. West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall voted in favor, while Republican Shelley Moore Capito voted against. Democrat Alan Mollohan, who lost his re-election bid, did not vote.
Capito voted against this just two days after her office issued a statement commemorating "National Miners Day," an occasion she used to attack the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on mountaintop removal mining. . . .
You’re right, Michael Myer, talk is cheap.
Finally, no Myer column is complete without some cheap shots at Democrats, liberals or "radical environmentalists." This week it’s the Democrats turn:
Partisanship may be strong among some members of Congress, but no more so than that displayed by some of their constituents.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and his wife, Mary, don't hand candy out to children during parades. They pass out small American flags, instead.
During the Labor Day parade in Paden City, I'm told Mrs. McKinley noticed a little girl who seemed to want one of the flags. As she attempted to hand one over, the child's mother pushed it away. "Don't take that," she told the girl, "we're Democrats!"
Last time I checked, it was still the American flag.
Wow! David McKinley is so patriotic and Democrats are so partisan.
Is it possible for the candidates to talk about another issue?
As I follow the WV senate race, one of the questions that I keep asking myself is "why is coal just about the only issue that's being discussed?" I follow both candidates very closely and while they sometimes move to other issues (Capito tries to tie Tennant to Obama, Tennant connects Capito to Wall Street), they keep coming back to coal. Why? Okay, coal is still a major employer in the state but it’s not the only one. The U.S. Energy Information Agency tells us that there were 17,085 people employed in coal in 2012 (the most recent government statistic I could find) out of a 2013 estimated population for WV of 1,854,304. For the most part, coal companies are not among the major employers in the state. For example, only one coal company made it into the top twenty-five state employers in 2012 (Consol at #5). Furthermore, what could a junior senator from West Virginia do about "the war on coal"? As a number of my sources in previous blog entrees point out, that "war" was lost a generation ago when coal companies found cheaper methods than deep wall mining for coal extraction. Since then we’ve added natural gas to the energy mix further undercutting the need for coal. Finally, coal’s role in climate change is increasingly becoming apparent to more and more Americans (even Republicans) and I think that coal’s decline is a long-term trend that will not be reversed. Are there other issues the candidates could cover? How about health care, jobs, economic growth and income inequality for starters? For example, if I were running Tennant’s campaign I would constantly point out that it was the Democrats that ensured that 150,000 West Virginian’s who previously lacked any health care now have some.
Is this over emphasis on coal the media’s fault? While it would be easy to point the finger at them (and for that matter, bloggers who write about the media) I think, in this case, they mostly report what the candidates say. Another possibility is this race to see which candidate can out-holler the other candidate in claiming "I’m more pro-coal than you," is about something else – perhaps, which candidate is the true West Virginian. That possibility was developed by Christopher Plein, a public administration professor at WVU, who was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor for "West Virginia Senate test: Which candidate can cozy up closest to coal?":
Mr. Plein credits West Virginia’s distinct history and legacy of coal development for creating an atmosphere in which both sides vehemently criticize one another on coal. Coal is less vital to West Virginia’s economy than it once was, Plein says, but grandstanding about the state’s storied natural resource helps candidates confirm their ties to West Virginia and distance themselves from the Washington establishment.
"Coal sort of serves as shorthand. If you say that you’re pro-coal, you establish your bona fides," Plein says. "You establish that you’re pro-West Virginia."
I think Plein is on to something here and it occurs to me that coal is not the only means for the candidates to prove their loyalty. For example, references to Capito are always to Shelley Moore Capito to remind audiences who her father is and Tennant regularly reminds her audience that she was the first female WVU mountaineer. Can we now all agree that they are both true West Virginians so that we can talk about other issues?
Something you won't see locally - factchecking Capito
The Tampa Bay Times truth-checking website, politifact.com, recently fact-checked two statements by Shelley Moore Capito. It’s conclusion: mostly false and false. Both deal with Obama and the EPA. The first explains:
Capito said, "The president's come out with rules that say, 'No new coal-fired power plants.' " The rules do not explicitly ban future coal plants, so already this is an exaggeration of what the EPA has proposed.
While the future of coal is uncertain, it has much more to do with energy markets and the rise of natural gas — a cheaper and more efficient energy source — than Obama’s regulations. The stricter carbon standards from the EPA may create additional barriers to building new facilities. But already there is one attempt to build a facility that would meet these thresholds and experts expect it won’t be the last.
The test facing coal is real, but Capito goes way too far in her indictment. We rate the statement Mostly False.
And the second notes:
Capito said "What (Obama is) going to come out with in the next several months is you're not even going to be able to burn coal very limitedly in the existing plants." The proposal Capito is referring to is an EPA plan to cut carbon emissions in existing power plants. Those rules do not prohibit current facilities from burning coal, and even Capito’s spokeswoman said the rule "doesn't mean that every plant has to close."
Some facilities will close down within the next decade, but many of those plants were scheduled to be retired anyway due to age and other factors. States and power companies have options to continue to utilize coal for energy, and experts said they expect coal to remain part of the national portfolio for years to come.
We rate Capito’s claim False.
hat tip: Coal Tattoo