Gov. Joe Manchin (D)
Elected: 2004, term expires Jan. 2013, 2nd term.
Born: Aug. 24, 1947, Farmington .
Home: Marion County.
Education: WV U., B.S. 1970.
Family: Married (Gayle); 3 children.
Elected office: WV House, 1982-84; WV Senate 1986-96; WV sec. of state, 2000-04.
Professional Career: Co-owner, Manchin's Carpet and Tile, 1968-82; Owner, Enersystems, 1989-2000.
Democrat Joe Manchin, elected governor of West Virginia in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, comes from a family involved in politics for many years. Manchin grew up in Farmington, a few miles up Buffalo Creek from the industrial city of Fairmont on the Monongahela River. He remembers working in his grandfather’s grocery store, and later, in his father’s carpet and furniture store. He took a semester off from college to help his father rebuild the store after a fire. His grandfather and father were elected mayor of Farmington. His uncle, A. James Manchin, was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates and, statewide, as secretary of state and state treasurer. After graduating from West Virginia University, Joe Manchin went to work in the carpet and furniture business, helping to send his four siblings to college. Then he started a coal brokerage company and eventually moved to Fairmont. In 1982, at age 35, Manchin was elected to the House of Delegates, and in 1986, to the state Senate. After 10 years in the state Senate, Manchin ran for governor. The Democratic primary was a rip-roaring contest between Manchin and legislator Charlotte Pritt, who had the support of organized labor. She attacked Manchin as the business candidate, and unions opposed him because of his votes on workmen’s compensation bills. Pritt beat Manchin in the 11-candidate primary 40%-32%. He declined to support her in the general election and attacked her in October. She lost to 74-year-old Republican Cecil Underwood.
|Joe Manchin (D)||492,697||(70%)|
|Russ Weeks (R)||181,612||(26%)|
|Jesse Johnson (MP)||31,486||(4%)|
|Joe Manchin (D)||264,775||(75%)|
|Melvin Kessler (D)||90,074||(25%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2004 (64%)
Manchin returned to Fairmont and seemed out of politics. But in 2000, when 86-year-old Secretary of State Ken Hechler ran for the U.S. House, Manchin ran to succeed him. So did Pritt. This time, Manchin beat her in the primary 51%-29%. He worked with Republican U.S. attorneys to prevent vote fraud and was one of the few secretaries of state to comply with the federal requirement of a statewide voter registry. In May 2003, he announced he was challenging Democratic Governor Bob Wise in the 2004 primary. That seemed a daunting task. Wise had already raised $1.2 million. But timing is everything in politics. Later that month, Wise announced that he had had an extramarital affair and would not seek re-election. In quick time, eight Democrats and 10 Republicans joined the race.
This time, Manchin worked successfully to get support from both unions and business and could not be easily tagged “the candidate of big business.” His stands on cultural issues were impeccably conservative: against abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. He emphasized economic issues, calling for a concentrated state effort to spur economic development. Manchin’s best financed opponent was former state Sen. Lloyd Jackson. Another was Charleston lawyer Jim Lees. Jackson ran tough negative ads against Manchin, but they apparently didn’t have much impact. Manchin won with 53% of the vote to 27% for Jackson and 14% for Lees. In the Republican primary, Monty Warner, a retired Army colonel and Monongalia County developer, won with 23% of the vote.
Manchin and Warner were old friends, and pledged to run a positive campaign; they mostly did. But the advantage was all with Manchin. He had far more money, and his implicitly low-tax platform undercut Warner’s tax-cut, stop-lawsuit-abuse theme. Warner wasn’t invited to appear on stage with President George W. Bush during many of his frequent appearances in West Virginia, and Manchin’s business support, plus the formation of a Republicans for Manchin group that included top Bush backers, helped convince the usually Republican Charleston Daily Mail to endorse him. The business community concentrated on an ultimately successful attempt to defeat Democratic state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. Republicans also made gains in state legislative races—a dividend, perhaps, of Bush’s 56%-43% victory in the state. But Manchin won by a wider 64%-34%, carrying 52 of 55 counties.
Manchin had been in office for just a year when he gained national renown as the public face of desperate attempts to rescue 13 trapped coal miners after the January 2, 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine in central West Virginia. Manchin, whose uncle was killed in a 1968 accident that claimed 78 lives, arrived at the Sago mine within hours of the accident to offer comfort to the families and act as their main conduit of information. During the two-day ordeal, the governor appeared frequently at news conferences and gave numerous televised news interviews. But he also made an astounding mistake, announcing “the miracle of all miracles,” that 12 of the miners had survived when in fact they had died, an error understandably devastating for the grief-stricken families. The blunder could have been career-ending. But in fact, Manchin’s standing skyrocketed in the polls, largely due to his sincerity and tirelessness but also in small part because West Virginia Republicans decided that the mining accident was a line that they would not cross. Asked by USA Today to comment on Manchin’s performance, the state Republican Party chairman said, “There’s nothing political about this crisis. The governor represents the state, and we’re all united in the heartache that we’re all experiencing.”
On January 26, Manchin signed into law a package of mine safety improvements, including wireless emergency communication devices, tracking devices and extra air supplies, plus a $100,000 penalty for mine operators that fail to report mine fires and explosions to a central hotline within 15 minutes. After two other deadly mining accidents in the state, Manchin in early February ordered safety inspections at all West Virginia mines. In April 2007, Manchin signed new coal safety laws mandating certain ventilation practices and giving the state authority to temporarily shut down mines with safety violations.
Manchin has achieved legislative success on other issues. In April 2006, he signed into law eight bills designed to improve state health care, including a new mental health commission, a low-income health care plan providing basic care at clinics around the state, and a catastrophic health care insurance program. He also signed legislation restricting city governments in taking property in eminent domain cases. Increased coal mining and video lottery revenue helped boost state tax revenues, which Manchin persuaded the Legislature to use to pay down the state’s portion of debt it owes to state employee pension funds. Manchin also proposed a law increasing penalties for sex offenders. The bill died in the regular session after Senate Republicans added strict mandatory sentencing language. After legislators met in a special June session and approved a compromise bill, Manchin signed it. During a second special session in November 2006, legislators delivered to Manchin a series of tax cuts, including a cut in the food tax and a reduction of business franchise and corporate income taxes. Manchin enjoyed high approval ratings as Democrats headed into the 2006 elections, and he proved to be a popular draw for Democratic candidates. In a bid to shift control of the House of Delegates to Republicans, coal executive Don Blankenship pumped more than $2 million into state delegate races. Democrats ended up improving their majority in the state House by four seats, giving them a 72-28 advantage.
In January 2007, Manchin pledged to raise teachers’ pay 2.5%, with a minimum of $30,000 a year. The Legislature raised that to 3.5%. State government revenues rolled ahead of projections, and in March, Manchin signed a $10 billon budget. He called for hauling away abandoned cars, saying, “People will not pay to come see a garbage dump. They want what we have in West Virginia, the quality of life. They can work here and raise a family.” After objections to his new welcome sign slogan, “Open for Business,” he promoted an Internet poll pitting it against the 1975-91 state slogan, “Wild, Wonderful,” and got 49,000 responses, with the old slogan prevailing in the vote. Also in 2007, Manchin hailed the groundbreaking of a new coal-fired electric power plant in Monongalia County, the first new facility since 1993.
In 2008, with the state again in good fiscal shape, the Legislature increased the teachers’ pay raise to 4.5% and left in place the scheduled cut in the corporate tax from 8.75% to 6.5%. As the recession began to affect state budgets in 2008, Manchin said, “Our revenues are still exceeding our projections, which is strong in a volatile market. Like every other state, we won’t escape financial losses from this shakeout. But we’re in good shape to handle it.” He also expressed disapproval of the federal government’s rescue of Wall Street firms, telling Fox News, “I come from a little West Virginia community. I never got rewarded for bad performance. I never got a bonus if I lost your money. … How, all of a sudden, can that work in the financial community? Who allowed that to happen? It’s not hard to figure out what went wrong. They took the regulations off and allowed people to make money in any way.” In 2009, Manchin was focused on proposals for boosting student achievement and allowing local officials to develop jobs programs on mined land.
He did not have serious competition for re-election in 2008. He spent $1 million by October while his Republican opponent borrowed $10,000. In November, he won 70%-26%, the largest ever margin of victory for a West Virginia governor unless you count the unanimous margins for Republican Arthur Boreman in two elections during the Civil War. His popularity has sparked discussions about his political future beyond the governor’s office. He would presumably be a strong candidate for the Senate if one of the state’s two seats opens up.