Dems Lose Coal Country

Stance On Cap-And-Trade Shows Party’s Disregard For Region

Posted: August 22, 2014

What Republican Ben Chafin’s comfortable victory over Democrat Mike Hymes in Tuesday’s special Senate election means, in terms of state politics, is a matter of simple math. Mr. Chafin’s win gives the GOP a 21-19 advantage in the Senate, not to mention total control of the General Assembly.

Ultimately, this translates to a tough row to hoe for Gov. McAuliffe, at least over the next 18 months, in securing passage of his agenda goals — especially expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

He will be obliged to marshal whatever political skills he possesses — we’ve been told they’re legendary — in dealing with Republican majorities from a position of diminished strength.

But, if possible, this election in the southwestern coalfields’ 38th District holds even greater significance. Once a Democratic bastion, Virginia’s “coal country” has swung the other way. There’s nary a Democratic legislator to be found in the state’s distant corner.

The reason? A sense that the party has abandoned the region’s signature industry.

In this vein, Mr. Hymes, who understood his bread-and-butter was sprinkled with coal dust, fought a valiant but losing battle, particularly in the wake of former U.S. Sen Jim Webb’s retirement.

It’s instructive to note that, as far back as July 2009, Mr. Hymes, speaking as a member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, addressed a letter to Mr. Webb and then-junior Sen. Mark Warner, pleading with them to oppose cap-and-trade legislation that could prove a death knell to the coal industry.

This energy legislation — subsequently and thankfully jettisoned — he wrote, “would destroy almost 70,000 high-wage coal-mining jobs, dramatically increase individual consumer energy bills, and damage the coal industry by limiting its global  ... competitiveness while achieving minor and insignificant improvement to the environment.”

Mr. Webb, citing “reservations” about the legislation, notably opposed it, but Mr. Warner ignored the plea of a constituent and party member, and declared “the most significant thing we can do is send the market signal that, either directly through a carbon tax or indirectly through cap-and-trade, we are going to put a price on carbon.”

In October of that year, Mr. Warner compounded his willful disregard for the future economic well-being of the region — and its residents, such as Mr. Hymes — by standing with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., as the Senate’s cap-and-trade measure was unveiled.

Since then, Mr. Warner has not been as brazen in demonstrating his greenish — dare we say “anti-coal”? — proclivities. In fact, as noted by Politico, during last month’s debate at the Greenbrier with GOP challenger Ed Gillespie, the senior senator deftly “dodged” two efforts to run him to ground on new EPA regulations as damning to the coal industry as cap-and-trade.

Need any more proof be offered as to how, and why, Democrats lost “coal country”? Now, the only question is whether Mark Warner hears the tolling of this defection as a political firebell in the night.

Our guess is that he does not, that he has done the electoral calculus and senses he no longer needs a region that rose so conspicuously to his standard during his 2001 gubernatorial run.

That would explain his silence as Mr. Hymes labored in vain to maintain for Democrats a solitary legislative presence in the economically threatened Southwest.

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