Don Blankenship is looming large over the contentious governor’s race.
As CEO of Massey Energy, central Appalachia’s largest coal producer, Don Blankenship towered over West Virginia politics for more than a decade by spending millions to bolster Republican candidates and causes.
That chapter came to an end in April, when Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to commit mine safety violations in the period leading up to the deadly 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine. But even in absentia, he casts a long shadow over state politics. For evidence, look no further than the contentious Democratic primary for governor.
The campaign pits Jim Justice, a billionaire coal operator and high school basketball coach, against two opponents—state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, and Booth Goodwin, the former US attorney who prosecuted Blankenship.
Justice holds a double-digit lead in the polls and (not unlike another billionaire running for office this year) is spending much of his time arguing that his 10-figure net worth will insulate him from special interests. But when he was asked about the Blankenship conviction at a campaign stop earlier this month, he ripped into Goodwin for what he considered to be a sloppy, opportunistic prosecution.
“I think we spent an ungodly amount of money within our state to probably keep Booth Goodwin in the limelight and end up with a misdemeanor charge,” Justice told WOAY TV. “If that’s all we are going to end up with, why did we spend that much money to do that?”
Blankenship originally faced up to 30 years for making false statements to federal regulators, but he was convicted on only the least serious of three counts—the misdemeanor conspiracy charge.
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