Wisconsin may well be the most flippable Republican-held Senate seat. Extremist Ron Johnson broke his own promise to serve just 12 years and has just announced he's running for another 6 year term. Aside from being one of the most far right members of the Senate-- and a lunatic willing to say anything, regardless of veracity, to make an ideological point-- he reeks of personal corruption. In their first ad of the campaign (above), the DSCC didn't touch the extremism or voting record and just concentrated on one thing: Johnson's record of serving his own interests and not Wisconsin's. Watch the ad and you'll see what I mean.
Tom Nelson, the Democrat most likely to be able to beat Johnson in a general election, told me this morning that he had "to hand it to the DSCC. This ad and its message is spot on. The issue most important to voters is how Ron Johnson is out of step, more specifically, that he has no clue how it is to work for a living. Additionally, people are incensed by his voting record, supporting tax breaks for the ultra wealthy, tax breaks the rest of us invariably have to pay for in the end. Never forget. Elections are about the voters and how a candidate will improve their lives-- or not."
Too bad the DSCC can't run similar ads for other senators who do exactly what Johnson has been doing-- no sense in doing it for Richard Burr (R-NC), who's retiring at the end of the year, but who's been trading in stocks for his personal account almost as much as Nancy Pelosi. Among the other senators who most blatantly violated the STOCK Act are freshman wing nuts Roger Marshall (R-KS), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), none of whom are up for re-election this year.
Rand Paul, however, is and he and his wife are insider traders, having used information had got in the Senate to buy-- and then not report-- stock in Gilead, a biopharmaceutical company that manufactures an antiviral COVID-19 treatment. Since the DSCC isn't really interested in helping Charles Booker beat Paul, I doubt we'll ever see an ad slamming Paul the way they just slammed Johnson.
But if you want to talk about senators who work more for their own interests than for the interests of their constituents, the most guilty is someone the DSCC will never go after: putative Democrat Joe Manchin, one of the most corrupt men to have won a Senate seat in any of our lifetimes. That corruption has been in the headlines now as he blocks Biden's Build Back Better plan on behalf of the special interests who have made him and his family extremely rich. That Build Back Better would do wonders for his constituents in West Virginia are factors Manchin always tries his best to cover up and ignore. His state's own voters support Build Back Better and are likely to remember that he killed it:
This morning, Jonathan Weisman painted an ugly picture of one aspect of Manchin's grotesque corruption for NY Times readers. The coal miners and their union have come out for Build Back Better and have asked Manchin to think of them and their families instead of himself-- the name of the Ron Johnson ad, by the way-- and his own family, he as much as spat in their faces. This is a statement from Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, who has had a long and supportive relationship with Manchin:
The Build Back Better (BBB) legislation includes several items that we believe are important for our members and their communities-- some of which are part of the UMWA’s Principles for Energy Transition we laid out last spring.
The bill includes language that would extend the current fee paid by coal companies to fund benefits received by victims of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung. But now that fee will be cut in half, further shifting the burden of paying these benefits away from the coal companies and on to taxpayers.
The bill includes language that will provide tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to build facilities in the coalfields that would employ thousands of coal miners who have lost their jobs. We support that and are ready to help supply those plants with a trained, professional workforce. But now the potential for those jobs is significantly threatened.
The bill includes language that would, for the first time, financially penalize outlaw employers that deny workers their rights to form a union on the job. This language is critical to any long-term ability to restore the right to organize in America in the face of ramped-up union-busting by employers. But now there is no path forward for millions of workers to exercise their rights at work.
For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass. We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.
I also want to reiterate our support for the passage of voting rights legislation as soon as possible, and strongly encourage Senator Manchin and every other Senator to be prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that. Anti-democracy legislators and their allies are working every day to roll back the right to vote in America. Failure by the Senate to stand up to that is unacceptable and a dereliction of their duty to the Constitution.
Weisman wrote that "With the miners now officially on the opposite side of the mine owners, it signaled the escalation of a behind-the-scenes struggle centered in Manchin’s home state to sway the balking senator, whose skepticism about his party’s marquee domestic policy measure has emerged as a potentially fatal impediment to its enactment. While most of the attention to the fate of the social safety net and climate change bill has fixed on ideological divisions among Democrats over its largest provisions and overall cost, the battle underway over parochial issues in Manchin’s state could ultimately matter more than the public pleas of liberal groups and relentless bargaining by Democratic leaders."
Manchin has been allied with the miners, but far more so with the mine owners. And, as Wesiman reminded his readers this morning, Machin's "own family has profited from waste coal from abandoned mines, which the Manchins sell to a polluting power plant in his home state. And Manchin has received more campaign donations from the oil, coal and gas industries than any other senator in the current election cycle.
For much of last year, miners and mine owners were in sync on their skepticism of the Democrats’ far-reaching social policy and climate change plan, fearing measures to hasten the economic transition from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to renewable sources like wind and solar.
But in the bill, Democrats included provisions dear to the unions of West Virginia, which have been watching employment in the coal industry diminish for years.
Most pressing was an extension through 2025 of an excise tax paid by coal mine operators and protected for years by Manchin. The levy finances a trust fund that pays about 30,000 miners coping with black lung disease and their beneficiaries a little under $700 a month. Because Build Back Better did not pass last year, the tax was cut in half as of Jan. 1, pushing the struggling fund further into debt.
The bill also includes top priorities for union leaders, such as stiff penalties for employers that block union organizing and collective bargaining.
Beyond those provisions is a weightier matter in coal country: whether to shore up a polluting power source or transition the Appalachian economy away from coal.
The bill includes industrial policies proposed by Manchin that would help wean the region away from fossil fuels, including $100 billion to aid manufacturers and $25 billion for advanced manufacturing outreach, with $4 billion of the outreach funding set aside for coal-mining regions. A tax credit for energy investments includes a generous additional subsidy for those investments that flow to communities with oil and gas workers, a closed coal mine or a shuttered coal-fired electricity generator.
For years, coal miners and operators alike looked skeptically at such efforts. Miners rallied to Trump’s side in the 2016 campaign as he promised to bring their industry back, not replace it with clean energy. He did not keep that promise, and coal mining employment, which was at about 51,000 jobs when he took office, had fallen to a nadir of 39,000 by the time he was denied a second term.
Union mining jobs with good pay, pensions and health benefits have been replaced with low-wage work-- if they have been replaced at all. The promise of renewable energy as a replacement has so far yielded little. Jobs installing solar panels or building wind turbines tend to disappear once a renewable energy facility is up and running, since such facilities require little ongoing labor.
Jason Walsh, the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which has brought together labor and environmental groups to marshal support for initiatives like Biden’s domestic policy bill, said he did not fault miners for their doubts. But he pointed to active conversations about building a solar panel assembly plant in the Ohio Valley that would hire more than 2,000 union workers. Such projects could use a federal nudge.
“Build Back Better provides really the best opportunity for any industrial policy vision in these areas,” Walsh said.
It took a while, but last month, those arguments won over the unions of Manchin’s home state, which have long been the backbone of his political support. In its statement asking Manchin to return to negotiations, the state’s AFL-CIO chapter noted that the bill included his industrial policy legislation.
The bill “would help workers, our families and the labor movement both across the country and right here in West Virginia,” the president of the labor group, Josh Sword, said in the statement.
The manufacturing provisions, in particular, have driven a wedge between coal miners and coal mine owners, who have been working hard to shore up Manchin’s opposition. The miners appear to have embraced the reality that coal is dying and they must look beyond it to survive, but their bosses do not see the end as inevitable.
Chris Hamilton, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, which represents the owners, said coal employment would remain viable for years to come, and he accused the unions of “waving a white flag.” He also suggested they did not understand the damage that renewable energy incentives in the bill would do to what is left of coal.
“Frankly, we were shocked” when the unions endorsed the social policy and climate legislation, Hamilton said.
“We would have thought they’d have gone down swinging,” he added. “I don’t think we ought to be trading one job for another, particularly basic fossil energy jobs which are extremely well paid and carry benefits-- and could last for another generation.”
Phil Smith, the United Mine Workers’ chief lobbyist, responded, “We’re still swinging, but we’re swinging in a smart way and in a way that will provide a real future for fossil energy workers in West Virginia and throughout the country.”
Union officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering mine owners, said Manchin should not be listening to the West Virginia Coal Association, which includes some of Trump’s staunchest supporters and switched allegiances in 2018 to back Manchin’s Republican challenger in that year’s election, Patrick Morrisey.
Such personal considerations should not be overlooked. The United Mine Workers made Manchin an honorary member in 2020 for his work securing pension, health and black lung benefits. At every turn, the senator notes that he lost an uncle, high school classmates, friends and neighbors in a 1968 explosion at a mine in Farmington, W.Va., that killed 78 miners.
And while Manchin has snapped at reporters in the Capitol shouting questions about Build Back Better negotiations, his spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, was effusive about his concern for mine workers.
“Senator Manchin has always been a strong advocate for the United Mine Workers of America and championed legislation to address the black lung excise tax expiration,” she said. “He will of course continue to work to shore up the black lung excise tax and address the needs of our brave miners.”
Talk, of course, is cheap... and, in any case, Joe Manchin is far more concerned with building a personal fortune-- like Ron Johnson has-- than in the legitimate concerns of hard-pressed workers in his own state. He may be a Democrat but he and other conservative Democrats-- corrupt actors like Dianne Feinstein and Kyrsten Sinema come right to mind-- are no less guilty than corrupt Republicans like Johnson.