Just apologize, Governor Manchin

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 22, 2006

It might seems that way, but government isn't always supposed to be about politics.

It might seems that way, but government isn't always supposed to be about politics.

That was the message sent this week by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which chided Gov. Joe Manchin for suggesting he'd use his official position to retaliate against politicking by Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

At issue: Manchin's lashing out at the coal executive last year for daring to publicly oppose his plan to put the state $5 billion more in bond debt. Because he "jumped in there with his personal wealth trying to direct public policy," additional scrutiny of Blankenship and his businesses was "justified," the governor quipped at the time.

Blankenship responded with a lawsuit, charging Manchin with violating his First Amendment rights. The governor's handlers dubbed the suit a "nuisance" and asked it be dismissed, claiming "immunity."

The Fourth Circuit rightly disagreed.

"Because we find that the facts as alleged establish that the governor threatened imminent adverse regulatory action and that a reasonable public official in his position would know that such a threat is unlawful, we hold that the governor is not entitled to immunity from this suit," wrote Judge Roger Gregory in the majority opinion.

"Unlawful" to be sure, such a statement by a sitting U.S. governor is plain outrageous in every sense. Free speech is the lifeblood of our representative democracy. West Virginia needs more active dissent of the kind generously spearheaded by Mr. Blankenship, not less.

West Virginia is lots of things, but it isn't a one-party dictatorship.

Moreover, as a sitting elected official sworn to uphold the public trust, Manchin is obliged to take care and protect the dignity of our executive branch. Threatening critics with catty, state-sponsored retaliation is not just unbecoming, it debases the authority of his office for future governors.

Maybe he didn't mean to say it that way. Maybe it just slipped out. Whatever happened, it's time Manchin manned up and just apologized to Blankenship and the people of this state for his reckless statement.

Mr. Popular you may be, Mr. Governor. But you're not our Dear Leader.

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