As our own Em Carpenter ably wrote Wednesday, West Virginia’s (badly hobbled) Supreme Court refused to allow Don Blankenship to appear as a candidate on the state’s ballots for its Senate election this year. This post is about that decision, although it is broken up into two very different sections. The first part is about Blankenship’s exclusion. The second part is about Blankenship.
Don Blankenship’s Exclusion
West Virginia’s Supreme Court has ruled that Don Blankenship will not be allowed to appear on ballots as the Constitution Party’s candidate for the United States Senate. Its ruling was predicated upon West Virginia’s sore-loser law, a bit of regulation designed to prevent candidates who lose in one party’s primary from jumping back into an election as a representative of a second, and almost always fringer, party. Blankenship had run for the Republican nomination for Senate; the state’s Republican voters rejected his candidacy. He then proposed to run as the candidate representing the Constitution Party, but in doing so, he became identified as a sore-loser.
It is obviously quite easy to conclude that what the state’s Supreme Court decided is in accordance with the state’s law. Nobody forced Blankenship to run as a Republican. He could have fronted the Constitution Party the entire time. But he chose to make a run at the one, and in doing so, rendered himself unable to run as the other. Actions have consequences.
Blankenship should know this better than most. After all, he just finished up a year in jail, the result of his intentional mismanagement of safety at Raleigh County’s Upper Big Branch Mine. Twenty-nine miners died in the 2010 explosion. Coal dust had built up within the mine as a result of safety mandates being repeatedly ignored by Blankenship’s Massey Energy. Blankenship has refused to take any responsibility for the explosion, insisting that Massey Energy was always concerned for the miners’ well-being, despite the 515 safety citations Upper Big Branch had been given over the course of 2009 alone.
For extremely obvious reasons, Blankenship is a loathed man, thoroughly hated throughout the state by those who believe that Upper Big Branch was the direct result of the decisions that he made. Those decisions of his – which fit into the state’s broader and longer history of otherworldly abuse at the hands of the extraction industries that barely sustain West Virginia’s existence – are still things for which he refuses to take any responsibility, and in fact, Blankenship has undertaken an ongoing propaganda war against anybody and everybody that he thinks has conspired against him. If he is asked, he will assure anybody willing to listen that it is in fact he who is the real victim here.
Here it is worth noting that Blankenship was not banned from West Virginia’s ballot because of his deadly mismanagement at one of his job sites, nor was he banned because of his subsequent refusal to take a scintilla of responsibility for anything he has done. He was banned from the ballot because of a law that was specifically designed to benefit the state’s two biggest parties, a law that was poorly written and amended for clarity’s sake only after Blankenship’s loss. Neither party wants to risk letting a potentially popular, but unsuccessful, candidate jump ship in the aftermath of a primary loss. The sore loser law is meant to address that, by forcing aspirational candidates into making one of two decisions: run within one of the of two parties (and hope for the benefits that accompany being associated with those two parties) or run as a third party (which ensures outsider status for the entirety of an election, and which almost certainly guarantees a loss in a general election).
But of course, the other reason that the state’s Republican leadership pushed so hard to exclude Blankenship is that he posed a threat to the Senate candidacy of Patrick Morrisey, the state’s Attorney General who is running against incumbent Joe Manchin. Mac Warner, the state’s Republican Secretary of State, insisted that the law forced him to forbid Blankenship’s run; the State’s current Supreme Court judges quickly agreed. They all pointed to the law; it is hard to ignore that the law ended up hugely benefiting Morrisey’s campaign. Morrisey, who is currently trailing, could not afford a scenario in which a third candidate was siphoning any of his support, and, although it seems unbelievable to imagine that Blankenship could draw support off of anybody, it was impossible to ignore that he did get twenty percent of the state’s Republican primary voters, with room for potential growth later on in a campaign. There are, in other words, fans of Blankenship within the state’s borders. Acknowledging their existence is precisely the point of the sore-loser law that ended up keeping Blankenship out, in that it insulated a major party candidate from the whims of voters by denying them the opportunity to make their own choices.
That is good news for Republican Party activists, but very bad news for the idea of voters getting to make their own decisions. Speaking of those decisions, it is tempting to argue that Don Blankenship’s voters ought to be entitled to vote for the man if they so desire; it is equally tempting to argue that voters ought to be entitled to vote against the man if they so desire. West Virginia’s primaries are mostly closed affairs – registered Republicans can only vote for Republicans and registered Democrats can only vote for Democrats (independent voters can request a ballot of either party on election day, but cannot jump between the two once a selection has been made) – which means that significant swathes of Mountain Staters were denied the opportunity to vote against both Blankenship himself and his absurdly offensive candidacy.
That is an opportunity missed, not for good reasons, but because parties would prefer to limit the opportunities of voters to have their say. West Virginia’s sore loser law thoroughly undermines the concept of democracy, not by accident, but by design. It is, as with other blatant and ongoing attempts to create a concept of American democracy that intentionally excludes American voices, a disgusting thing that should be understood as an assault on the nation’s fundamental, guiding principles.
Blankenship claims to be mulling his options, although it is not clear what more he can do.
Here’s hoping that Don Blankenship – a man more concerned with the money he could make than with the lives of hard-working men, a man whose monstrous inability to acknowledge what he has done is matched only by his catastrophic delusions of grandeur, a man whose barony exists not as a testament to his deft skill but instead to his intense and complete moral corruption, a man who is as colossal an asshole as has ever wandered this beautiful place – spends the rest of his time on earth suffering intensely. And slowly too.