by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor

Rep. Nick Rahall and candidate Evan Jenkins  mostly debated "the past" during their 90 minute showdown at Huntington's Pullman Plaza Hotel courtesy of Jenkins honing pieces of Rahall's record dating back to his early years in Congress. Democrat Nick Rahall strongly defended his record of supporting West Virginia values and the necessity for  bipartisan working together especially  with a gridlocked and dysfunctional U.S. House of Representatives.

Jenkins, who switched to the Republican party to run against Rahall, repeatedly battered the incumbent for supporting President Barrack Obama and speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Jenkins ignored Rahall's explanations  about the political process requiring the acceptance of imperfect legislation then continuing efforts  to "tweak" bills that have weakness.

The source of campaign funding swirled in tit for tat exchanges. They could each point out inconsistencies in the "who's" from which their opponent had at one time accepted donations. Rahall appeared to rebuke Jenkins continued assertions that he does not strongly support coal. Rahall has the endorsement of the UMWA, not Jenkins.

Briefly, Jenkins pledged for "change" and to vote counter to the national Democratic interests that Rahall has supported. He did not fare well in "specifics," other than expanding energy jobs to include manufacturing and medical fields.

Congressman Rahall promised to continue supporting West Virginia values and recognize  energy diversity that places coal in the mix along with oil and natural gas. He stressed that his seniority on many committees mean the district receives grants and funds that (by inference) a freshman Congressman could not obtain.

Aside from applause and giggles at spontaneous scores and retorts, here are some of the issues discussed and the candidates' responses:


JENKINS:  I am passionate about health care. Obamacare was the wrong recipe . We need a health care system that promotes access and reduces costs.... the 2,700 page bill is broken... it has hurt seniors [and those requiring] home health care.

RAHALL:  I've never seen a perfect law and have voted several times to 'tweak' it.

Rahall indicated that returning health care solely to private insurance would lead to discrimination against those with pre existing conditions, the return of life long caps, prescription increases, and duplication eliminated in Medicare programs.

"My opponent is nothing but a shield for the insurance industry," which discriminates and lays down unaffordable premium increases.

Jenkins mentioned that 9,000 West Virginians lost insurance due to Obamacare. He did not name the company. However, the WV funded Access-WV, through the state that mirrored PEIA, was closed. It was for those with preexisting conditions and it provided subsidies to those that qualified. "The Obamacare alternative(s) are not working," said one of those formerly  insured under the old system.

"Maybe having insurance cancelled is in their best interest," Jenkins said of a Rahall statement made on the radio. Jenkins added that his opponent  " is out of touch with Obama care hurting seniors."

However, Rahall asked to "put politics aside and make it work," referring to the new Health Care Act. He added, "Do you think the billionaire backers of Jenkins (i.e. Don Blankenship and the Koch Brothers) are worried about health care?"

Neither Rahall or Jenkins support privatization of Social Security, elimination of Medicare  or a voucher system.


Although Jenkins read from a statement from a two page portion of a bill, Rahall asked how many Congressional bills are only two pages in length. He stressed his carbon tax vote impacts billionaires and is not something that impacts the average WV coal miner.  "I am for coal. I'll look every coal miner in this state in the face."


JENKINS  proposed getting the federal government out of West Virginia.

"The best job action would be getting the federal government off our backs. We need to get WV and coal miners back to work. I believe in manufacturing and health care. I will never turn my back on the hard working coal miner," Jenkins said.

Jenkins hinted he did not support the Ryan budget cut legislation. He answered, " I will not express (an opinion) on a budget I did not have a part in."


"Let's not forget an old fashioned jobs bill," suggesting  one that would replace our decaying infrastructure.

When the topics of coal and coal miners came up, the candidates traded barbs, particularly as Jenkins claimed Rahall had not been a 100% backer of coal.

JENKINS: We are proud of our coal history.  We need coal and natural gas. We can lead the country in energy independence.
...the [current[ policies are devastating. He gave EPA the biggest budget in their history. I will be 100% pro coal and pro coal miner.

In addition he noted that Pelosi wanted more "green" at the Capitol complex. "Rahall sponsored legislation that reduced the use of WV coal at the Capitol," Jenkins said.

RAHALL:  Coal is a way of life in WV. I have always stood for coal. We need an energy policy that embraces all of the above as long as they are domestic resources. Coal is not going away. Our coal miners are the greatest resource of all.


RAHALL:  Coal mining is a dangerous job... We are not doing enough to protect our miners.... we passed a mine safety bill that did not go far enough.

Rahall said Congress needs to pass the Robert C. Byrd safety bill that would allow miners to report safety violations anonymously. He also said he was the first government official to arrive at the UBB tragedy to speak with survivors.

JENKINS: The day after the disaster, Rahall sold his corporate ownership in Massey... In 1981 he cut criteria for Black Lung Benefits, which is the worst bill in the history of coal miners.

RAHALL: " If Mr. Jenkins had been at the UBB mine, he would have known cell phones don't work there."

As Rahall stressed his being there for  widows and survivors, Jenkins countered that previously Rahall had accepted campaign funding from Don Blankenship, the Koch Brothers and their wives. "Blankenship has not supported me for 12 years," Jenkins said.

(Editor's Note: According to the Washington Post, some explanations are necessary. The Robert C. Byrd portion of the black lung bill was eliminated to get the 1981 bill passed,  which upped the evidence standard for proving black lung disability. Rahall and Jenkins both support black lung provisions and additions. The "Robert C Byrd" portion is so named because the expansion of black lung benefits is contained in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which the incumbent apparently chose not to mention. A Rahall ad shows a miner worried about black lung benefits under Jenkins. Since Jenkins would repeal Obamacare, the benefits would vanish.

Referring back to tweaks, can you have it both ways? Apparently for Jenkins to support Black Lung then he favors retaining some Obamacare provisions. Isn't that "tweaking," not repealing the full bill? )


JENKINS: We know about the mortgage crisis. The next big crisis is the student loan debt crisis. We must (work something out) in a bipartisan way so our students are not shouldered with debt.

RAHALL: Noting a pilot program for free laptops for McDowell County students, the Congressman indicated that "I work across the aisles," which will be necessary to solve the student loan debt crisis. As an example, he noted that  the state has received millions to fight prescription drug abuse through the representatives of each party working together. "We are at ground zero with the drug epidemic in WV. This crosses all (party) lines," he said.

During this portion, Rahall pointed to how a grant protecting the New River decades ago has led to wide scale development of tourism, such as white water rafting.

Both candidates endorse the Hatfield and McCoy trail as a tourist development incentive.


Call it a draw. Each made strong points although the TIME FRAMES of acceptance and circumstances varied. From listening without fact checking, well, that's why the draw.


RAHALL: II will always be a fighter for WV. Who can help West Virginia the best," he asked? "We do not need the extremes of the Democratic or Republican Parties. We need to end the gridlock and end (my opponents ) billionaire's hidden agenda that does not help WV."

JENKINS: This is about the House of Representatives. This is an opportunity to make a change. We are hurting. We have problems. Is he really working for you?