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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Echoing Line from ‘Body Heat’, Blankenship Vows to Do ‘Whatever It Takes’ to Make WV GOP

Posted by kinchendavid on October 23, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV – In Larry Kasdan’s classic 1981 noir film “Body Heat”, the character played by the late Richard Crenna tells his wife’s lover, sleazy lawyer Ned Racine, played by William Hurt, that he’s a success in business because he does “whatever it takes” to accomplish his goals.

Successful Florida businessman Edmund Walker (the Crenna character), meet Don L. Blankenship, Marshall University accounting graduate and multimillionaire and the 56-year-old CEO of Massey Energy that the New York Times reported on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006 has vowed to spend “’whatever it takes’ to help win a majority in the State Legislature for the long-beleaguered Republican Party in a state that is a Democratic and labor stronghold.”

Times reporter Ian Urbina may be exaggerating the power of Democrats in West Virginia – a state that went for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and 2004 and certainly provided his margin of victory in 2000 – but his excellent story (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/us/22blankenship.html?th&emc=th) reflects my experience with Blankenship’s mailings to registered voters urging them to vote for Republicans and retire Democrats. Earlier this month I wrote two stories about the most recent mailings of Blankenship urging the defeat of candidates for the state’s House of Delegates.

(http://www.huntingtonnews.net/state/061016-kinchen-mailings.html and http://www.huntingtonnews.net/state/061013-kinchen-blakenship.html). Urbina quotes 30-year-incumbent congressman Nick J. Rahall, D-WV, who’s aware of the power of the Mingo County native: “Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office. He would be twice as accountable and half as feared.”

Blankenship, who has described himself as a “poor man with a lot of money,” reportedly has no political ambitions like fellow multimillionaires New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine or Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Urbina says. Instead he prefers to exert “his financial clout in the mold of Warren Buffett and George Soros, choosing issues and candidates in line with his partisan philosophy.”

Urbina: “Union leaders say Mr. Blankenship… is the main reason that less than a quarter of the state’s coal miners are now organized, down from about 95 percent just three decades ago. And environmentalists describe him as the biggest force behind a highly destructive form of mining called mountaintop removal that involves using explosives to blow off the tops of mountains to reach coal seams.”

While he’s an ogre to Democrats, union leaders and environmentalists, Urbina writes, “Local Republicans admiringly say that Mr. Blankenship combines the strategic savvy of Karl Rove, the White House adviser, and the fund-raising skill of Richard Mellon Scaife, the conservative financier. Mr. Blankenship personally oversees his media campaigns; he writes advertisements and designs polls, and speaks on talk radio more than the chairman of the state Republican Party.”

Urbina quotes the state’s GOP chairman, Doug McKinney: “This has never been an easy state for Republicans…But finally this state is at a tipping point, and Don is a big reason for that.”

Money talks and you know what walks…In a state where “candidates who win typically spend less than $20,000,” Urbina wirtes, “Mr Blankenship has spent at least $700,000 in his current effort to oust Democrats, and the state is awash with lawn signs, highway billboards, radio advertisements and field organizers paid for by him.”

Urbina notes that “In 2002, Republicans picked up 11 seats in the House of Delegates (but are still in the minority), and local political analysts say it is possible, though a long shot, that the Republicans will pick up the additional 18 House seats they need to control the Legislature in November. The Democrats retain a strong majority in the Senate.”

The New York Times reporter says that Blankenship declined to be interviewed for his story. He quoted political consultant Gary Abernathy: “Don is really the linchpin of it all.”

Considering his success with his Marshall degree – he received about $34 million in compensation in 2005 – roughly four times the industry standard, Urbina notes – the state’s second largest university should consider naming its business school after him. Just joking…that’ll never happen.

For more about Blankenship and his influence, consult my Sept. 16, 2006, review of Jeff Goodell’s “Big Coal”


There’s a lot of Blankenship in the Goodell book.


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