CHARLESTON – Massey Energy President Don Blankenship says state leaders are not doing anything to make the state more competitive and that it could lead to some of those leaders being voted out of office.
"I think it's clear that the state of West Virginia is not competitive with other states, and we didn't do anything to make us more competitive with other states," Blankenship said of this year's legislative regular session that ended March 11. "Taxes, tort reforms, anything else that would create jobs … there was no focus on the fundamental problems of no jobs and too high taxes."
Blankenship, who in recent years has become more vocal and more active in the state political arena, also said he doesn't like the way state Attorney General Darrell McGraw operates his office in terms of the use of outside attorneys and the distribution of funds received from settlements.
Blankenship touched on a variety of topics in an interview earlier this week:
"In general, West Virginians are the highest tax or near the highest taxed in the country. A number of taxes -- gasoline tax, food tax, car tax -- are hitting the pocketbooks of the people who can least afford it."
"The history of West Virginia politics has been that anything other than someone's voting record is used when people vote. Party alignment or corruption or incumbent position … there have been lots of things that impact whether a politician gets elected to be a legislator. But it's not been their voting record. I think we have an opportunity to expose some voting records and make a difference this year."
"At this stage, nearly everyone up there (in the Legislature) is vulnerable. Out of the 100 delegates, about 80 of them are vulnerable because of specific votes they made. West Virginians, in general, are strong right to life and want reduced taxes. And most want parental notification of an abortion.
"I think anyone (in office) with a legit challenger is vulnerable."
"There are no punitive caps on everything from asbestos to personal injury, so you risk your company if you locate here. The situation you've got now is that major corporations are hesitant to come here. The state needs to have incentives for creating jobs."
"They (the Legislature) needed to pass some sort of asbestos reform, but picking those laws off (individually) is not going to get it done. They need a wholesale business bill that would be a partnership between West Virginia and businesses so they could have some legitimacy in claiming that the state is open for business."
Blankenship has been an outspoken critic of Kiss. In January, he said he would spend money to fight Kiss's re-election. Shortly thereafter, Kiss decided not to run again for his House seat.
"It's sort of indicative of how far to the left that West Virginia is when Kiss is considered to be a moderate. He had become quite good at controlling what issues got to the floor. Therefore, his leaving gives the House of Delegates a chance to become more open and that procedure not dictate what the laws will be. Rather, the delegates' votes will determine what the laws will be.
"(The next speaker) needs to be somebody who lets the will of the people make decisions. Right now, I don't know who that would be."
GOV. JOE MANCHIN
"It's clear that the governor wants to control the agenda. He has two objectives. One is to control the agenda. The other is to position himself better as a national candidate without regard for what's best for West Virginia. He seems to be on focused on everything but lower taxes and more jobs. And that's what the state and Legislature needs to be focused on."
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
Attorney General McGraw has drawn criticism for his office's practice of retaining outside attorneys who have made contributions to his re-election campaign and for the way his office has distributed funds from the OxyContin case.
"It's ridiculous for the attorney general to be able to give work to his donors and to be able to spend that money in the manner in which he wants it to be spent. It makes no sense to me that it doesn't go back under control of the Legislature. It's symbolic of what ails West Virginia.
"But, it's not just McGraw. It's plaintiff's attorneys and anyone benefiting from McGraw's actions."
STATE SUPREME COURT TODAY
Blankenship was a major player in helping Brent Benjamin elected to the state Supreme Court of Appeals in 2004 over incumbent Warren McGraw, who is AG Darrell McGraw's brother.
"I think the court decisions are better (now). I think you should base your decisions on principle. It's a lot better than it was. It would be better if we could get (Larry) Starcher off the bench."
MORE ON THE LEGISLATURE
Some people have criticized the state Legislature for how much they did – or didn't do – during the just-ended session.
"I think the fact that they didn't do anything is a good thing. We saw disagreement. They're getting more concerned about how they vote. Perhaps they're not all under the governor's control. I hope it's the beginning of some open and meaningful debate rather than some rubber-stampinig that's been going on in the governor's term.
"The dynamic is that if those of us who want a better West Virginia can hold enough of the legislators responsible for their votes in this session, it might truly make a difference. We need to make the legislators more responsible to the people.
THE FUTURE OF WEST VIRGINIA
"With some changes here and there, we would have a state that's almost average. It's bad, but the objective now is to get to average."