04 May 2010

Election 2010: Upper Big Branch

The Associated Press observes signs of the April 5 underground mine disaster at Upper Big Branch becoming "fodder in the state's ongoing election races."

The re-election bid of state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, is the most conspicuous example. A union-funded television ad invokes the mine tragedy while attacking Wells over his committee vote against a 2008 bill that proposed "providing whistle-blower protection for reporting unsafe mine conditions."

Wells and his his supporters have denounced the ad as "shameful," and he launched his own spot in response. One union leader said the sponsors stand behind the ad, plan to continue to air it and may follow up with a new one.

AP reported during the 2008 session "that committee members debated whether the bill would improve the state's existing whistleblower provisions, which Wells also refers to in responding to the attack," the article said. "A divided committee ultimately rejected the bill."

The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail have also reported on the attack ad.

The AP article also reports that "the political spending of Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship has also come under renewed scrutiny," since the disaster, along with the company's handling of the mine and its safety record.

John Cummings, the former Cabell Circuit judge challenging state Sen. Evan Jenkins in next week's primary, cites a prior Blankenship contribution to his Democratic opponent in a TV ad.

Blankenship is also hovering over the tight primary contest between Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and county Commissioner Greg "Hootie" Smith, and the 3rd congressional district bid of Democrat-turned-Republican Elliott "Spike" Maynard, the article said.

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