By Gary Ball
Visits by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to West Virginia and Ashland in eastern Kentucky could prove to be pivotal in the upcoming presidential election.
At all locations, the role of coal in meeting our nation’s energy needs was brought up in an environment that was not friendly at all both Hillary and her husband.
Last month in a campaign speech in Ohio, HIllary Clinton, while touting the role of renewable energy resources, said that, as President, she was going “to put a lot coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She has since apologized for this statement, arguing her words were “taken out of context.”
What is pretty clear is that those who watched her speech saw otherwise.
Whatever one chooses to believe, the role of coal could end up playing a huge role in the race for President.
History shows that West Virginia nearly 60 years ago played a vital role in an election where many believed a young Massachusetts Senator named John F. Kennedy would not fare well in the Mountain State.
Kennedy, a Catholic, was campaigning in a state where the majority was Protestant. That might not seem like a big deal now, but it was a very big deal then.
West Virginia was a strong Democratic state and Democratic hopeful Hubert Humphrey was viewed by many as the logical choice.
Kennedy and his family made a lot of visits to West Virginia. The rest is history. Kennedy himself credited the good people of West Virginia for putting him over the top in a very close election.
Fast forward to today and the same cannot be said for Hillary Clinton.
In fact, her comments on coal — coupled with the Clintons’ visits here — could do for the apparent GOP nominee, Donald Trump, what the Kennedy family’s visits here accomplished — in reverse.
The decimation of the coal industry during the Obama Administration is something West Virginians will not quickly forget.
That’s understandable. Miners are accustomed to the “boom and bust” cycles associated with coal for decades. This, however, is far different.
Regardless of one’s position on coal —- that it’s a nasty fossil fuel, perhaps the nastiest that is beyond modern usage — or that it is a valuable natural resource that can be utilized through clean coal technology today — one cannot argue against the impact the loss of coal-related jobs has had on our area.
For the City of Logan, W.Va., to basically tell the Clintons they were not welcomed to their city due to her statement speaks volumes on the local sentiment.
Longstanding political affiliations due to “the way my family has always voted” means nothing in this case. When it comes to supporting one’s family and being laid off a few years from retirement age, it impacts a person heavily.
The fear of losing one’s livelihood — regardless of profession of vocation — when all you’re asking for is a chance to work, pay a mortgage, put your children through school and all the other things that go with having a family is real. To say “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of business” is demeaning.
Coal miners are good people. They know the risk, they’re aware of the toll it takes on their bodies in the long term, and they still do it. All they’re asking for now is simply an opportunity to continue doing so. They have provided the toil and sweat to power this nation from the days of the Industrial Revolution through two World Wars until the present day.
What they’re looking for now is a candidate willing to give them a chance to keep on working.
And that’s not asking much.
(Gary Ball is the editor for the Mountain Citizen newspaper in Martin County, Ky.)