Don Blankenship is running for U.S. Senate in West Virginia. Last May, Blankenship was released from prison after serving a one-year sentence for charges related to a 2010 coal mine explosion in the state that killed 29 people. Blankenship was CEO of Massey Energy, the company in charge of the mine, at the time of the explosion.
In 2016, a federal judge sentenced Blankenship to one year in prison for conspiring to commit mine safety violations, a misdemeanor, while he managed to skirt more serious charges linked to the explosion. When CNN asked him in a story published Friday about the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, he answered with refreshing candor (emphasis added):
What does he say to voters who believe he has blood on his hands from the mining tragedy?
“The thing I would say to ‘em is, Upper Big Branch deadly explosion is one of the biggest reasons they should vote for me if they’re, have family members or are involved in the coal industry. Unlike any other person that I know of, I stood up against the establishment when they falsely claimed that the explosion was caused by the coal miners,” he argued.
Blankenship insists the mine exploded because of federal regulators.
“These miners have had 400 years of experience and they were forced to change the ventilation by a guy that was hardly old enough to shave, and by God, that has got to stop,” he said.
Here’s the thing: No one was actually claiming that the miners were to blame for the explosion. State and federal investigators squarely placed the blame on Blankenship’s company, Massey Energy, for creating the unsafe working conditions that led to the explosion. Now, Blankenship is arguing that the families of the coal miners who died should vote for him because... he was involved with the mine explosion. ???????
Quotes like these aren’t the only reason Blankenship stays in the news, despite the fact that he is trailing the two other Republican Senate candidates in the polls. Blankenship recently claimed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is ethically compromised because his wife, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, is the daughter of “a wealthy Chinaperson.” It was also recently revealed that Blankenship’s primary residence is not even in West Virginia, but at a $2.4 million villa outside of Las Vegas. (If you want to learn more about Blankenship’s backstory, read Tim Murphy’s 2015 profile in Mother Jones.)
Here’s Blankenship in the 1980s talking about how capitalism is “survival of the most productive”:
None of this thinking should surprise us. In Blankenship’s mind, corporate overlords shouldn’t be held responsible for their employee’s horrific deaths caused by a lack of preventable safety measures. The market is most efficient when CEOs can endlessly profit off of the pain of their employees and, by extension, their employees’ families. It’s all just part of life in “the jungle.”