Last night West Virginia Mountain Party US Senate candidate Jesse Johnson joined a debate with Democrat Joe Manchin, Republican John Raese, and Constitution Party candidate Jeff Becker. Johnson stood out as the true progressive and the only candidate to oppose mountaintop removal coal mining. Watch the debate online at C-SPAN.
See also Jesse Johnson’s responses to questions from the Register-Herald editorial board:
Jesse Johnson, Mountain Party candidate for U.S. Senate, answered six questions posed to him by members of The Register-Herald editorial board earlier this week.
What opportunities do you see for diversifying the economy of West Virginia?
“That’s a great question and thanks for starting off with that. I think we need to do away with our ‘coal-acrats’ running a ‘coal-acracy’ and diversify as you just described. I’ve been talking about this since 2004. The opportunities are great. This is the fourth most resource-rich state in the United States and we reap very little of the benefit of that. We are 48th, 49th and 50th in almost every standard of living and it’s basically because we are not living up to our true potential.
“We just got identified by a science magazine as a hotspot for geothermal power and a lot of people don’t really understand the possibilities of geothermal, but geothermal can be as simple as a hole in the ground, like a well drilled.
“I think that we really need to get away from coal, certainly business as usual. We need to stop mountaintop removal in its tracks. Mountaintop removal kills jobs. It takes the miner out of the mine. We need to have safe underground mining that can be done environmentally, safely, and be able to maintain the beautiful culture and history and ecology that is provided by the biosphere that is on the top of the mountains.
“I’ve pressed for film and you may recall I’ve got past study resolutions through the House and Senate a number of years ago for film and intellectual property. I proffered it a long time ago as well in one of my previous campaigns, the idea of having a world-class film school here in West Virginia that would attract students from all over the world to come here. Allow all of the universities in West Virginia to integrate with that film school and utilize it for themselves.
“West Virginia is like a beautiful back lot. I was in the film industry and I know what they look for. Now we have one of the best incentive programs in our state that we worked to get passed. That is the base and the calling card for tourism. Tourism like you see in Williamsburg and all the battlefields. One of my focuses is Blair Mountain, which they are wanting to mountaintop remove. They are wanting to literally destroy the history of the second-largest insurrection in the history of the United States of America and obliterate it.
“You have communities that were thriving when coal mining was done properly — done underground. Now those communities have fallen from 500 homes down to 32 and things like that. You have this death knell for southern West Virginia that has got to stop. If we don’t do it, we are just going to end up being a giant superfund site and that’s not going to diversify our economy. That’s not going to help bring people into West Virginia.
“There actually was a depopulation plan by the coal industry and coal attorneys, literally to advocate people to move out of southern West Virginia. I want people to come back home to West Virginia. I want people to enjoy West Virginia. I want tourism to thrive in West Virginia, and along those lines, education and diversity.
“We have to get out of this 19th century British empire sort of paradigm for power. We became the new superpower in the 20th century because of our diversity. We diversified at that time. Standard Oil was over 25 percent biomass up until the time during Prohibition. The diesel engine was designed to run on biodiesel.
“When you consider that mountaintop removal site is metallurgical grade coal that is being pulverized, obliterated and shipped to China. We’ve already shipped our steel manufacturing, for the most part, to China. Now, we are shipping them our metallurgical grade coal, along with our culture, along with our history, along with our family plots and cemeteries, along with our jobs and the economy and the people of West Virginia. All of this is being decimated and being shipped to China to provide jobs for Chinese to manufacture steel to sell back to us. This is not a formula for sustainability for this country or the state of West Virginia.
“Diversification is key. We have to focus on education, we have to focus on tourism, intellectual property, these should be our focal points. Our transition from the externalized costs of coal as doing business as usual and politics as usual, and transition from burning coal to what I have proffered for years, which is the new coal economy.
“The new coal economy is based upon the idea that you stop pulverizing coal and putting into a blast furnace to provide this electricity. We don’t need it. More energy shines on the face of this planet in one day than all of humanity uses in an entire year. What waste. What incredible waste. So let’s find out and have the political will to catch that energy.
“My plan is for manufacturing. We start a new manufacture base right here, born in the hills and hollows of West Virginia to take coal, pulverize that coal and turn it into carbon composites, carbon foam, carbon fiber, carbon nanofiber. This is the future. This is everything from prosthetics to tennis rackets to automobiles to aircraft to aircraft shipping containers. We could have SUVs with 73 or more percent fuel efficiency as soon as we decide to start doing it. This creates automobiles that are fire-proof, that don’t rust.
“We’re the ones who pioneered this technology, here in the state of West Virginia. We aren’t benefiting from any of this because we allow the business as usual economy to continue and we prop it up. The politicians protect it and it’s got to stop because it is decimating this state, and now the nation. We can rebuild the middle class in this country and West Virginia, and we can bring ourselves to the forefront.
“We can still be creating and manufacturing and be a center for energy, but renewable forms of energy.”
If you had to cut one federal program or agency, which one would it be? Why?
“Of the 24 federal departments there are two that are not properly audited. If you look at the 2009 GAO audit you’ll see that there’s exemptions for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. Homeland Security tripled the size of government in the Bush years. Most of that is once again privatization to outsourcing of intelligence, etc. Seventy percent of our intelligence is outsourced, even outside of our nation.
“We don’t have to spend, when we are the world’s superpower, when we are the only empire on earth, we don’t need to spend that kind of money — more than anyone else combined — on defense. We have no conventional enemies and we have one of the most powerful militaries on the face of the planet.”
Will the EPA always have an adversarial relationship with West Virginia or is there room for compromise, and is climate change a real issue and what role does West Virginia play in the future of the environment? “How we deal with global warming … Is global warming real? Yes, it’s real. The question that really is proffered is how much do we as human beings in society play in it. If we are exacerbating a problem that already exists at all, we are making a mistake. Especially when we have the alternatives I described.
“The EPA would not be an issue if the West Virginia DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) was doing their job. Under this administration they’re not and under previous administrations they’ve not. We would not have had the mining disaster at Upper Big Branch had they been following Ken Hechler’s Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
“Underground mining is not dangerous and it provides jobs for West Virginians. If we stop this mountaintop removal insanity and put the miners back in the mines, we would have a much greater thriving coal economy. Just with that one simple act.
“The EPA and the Appalachian Restoration Act — this is about reimplementing laws that are already in place and laws that have been protecting us with greater security for our citizenry for a long time, by having the Clean Water Act protected and the Drinking Water Act protected.
“This suit (filed by the Manchin administration), I think, is ridiculous and I think that what we really have to do is face facts as Robert C. Byrd was seeing toward the very end. He was seeing beyond the horizon line. He was seeing that change was inevitable. Why do we always have to drag our anchor and be at the end of change instead of being the pioneers of change?
“We once were the pioneers of change. Not only with coal and energy, but this is the heart of the polymer alliance zone as well. We created so many of the things in the Kanawha Valley and throughout West Virginia.
“We’ve given it all away and we keep giving it all away to these big industries who aren’t paying their fair share and passing on taxation to the public.”
The Federal Highway Trust Fund is broke and funding is limited at both the federal and state level. How we do move forward in the future to ensure we can build and maintain new roads and bridges and maintain the ones we already have? “We have to have a greater emphasis on nation-building at home. Actually nation re-building and infrastructure re-building and stop trying to spread and be the policeman to the world. Last month’s treasury statement says that we have a $3.7 trillion economy — $1.7 trillion is being spent on the Department of Defense. One in three dollars goes toward the Department of Defense. We aren’t at war. Our Congress has not declared war since World War II. We are not truly at war and we have no conventional enemy. Why are one in three dollars going to this when our roads and bridges at home are crumbling?
“There are federal funds out there that we aren’t getting and the problem here in the state of West Virginia is to prop up so we look good on the books in the short term is the privatization of the Department of Highways and now the privatization of IT for the state of West Virginia. This is dangerous folly.
“Privatization in the Department of Highways — if we don’t do the rehires, then suddenly it’s attrition. The people and the employees of the Department of Highways are dwindling. Then when there’s not people to operate the equipment we have a surplus of equipment. We sell off the equipment. Then we say we have neither the personnel or the equipment to do the job. So then we start wanting to outsource that to private industry when we had a Department of Highways that functioned very well for years.
“The most dangerous part of that is when those rehires are kept up to federal standards, we lose those federal dollars and that’s got to stop. Just to shore up our short-term bottom line. That’s not smart. It’s not smart business.
“As a United States senator, I can guarantee you I am going to look at why we have one in three dollars going to the Department of Defense. We can rebuild this country. We can maintain our infrastructure and expand our infrastructure and we can do it wisely if we start spending our money wisely.”
Historically, West Virginia politicians have often brought money to the state in the form of earmarks in the federal budget. Do you support the practice of earmarking federal funds? “I think earmarking needs to be re-looked at. I would certainly do that in the United States Senate. No matter which one of us goes right now, it’s not going to be an issue because we don’t know if we are going to be on an appropriations committee, secondly we have no seniority as Sen. Byrd did and power to earmark. We’ve lost our gravy train. We lost Mollohan and we lost Byrd. So now, it’s a matter of making sure everything is actually fair in federal government and we get our fair share as a state.”
If elected and there was one thing you could do for West Virginia, what would it be? “The greatest thing is to rebuild our nation and stop this economic free fall. Right now we are suffering from Gresham’s dynamic in the marketplace. In the last 20 years we have gone from no derivative market whatsoever to now something like $700 trillion debt because of derivatives and an unregulated market. That’s greater than the GDP of the entire globe. How do we deal with that?
“Gresham’s dynamic is that morals have been pushed out of the market. We have corporate personhood … giving even more power to multi-national corporations to send money to funnel in to elect presidents and our Congress. I can’t see that as anything but treason, frankly. We have to start waking up and righting the wrongs that are taking us down the tubes and we’re following the paths of all empires. That is the constant increase in militarization and money is going to trying to conquer the world.
“I don’t care where you go around this country and I’ve been traveling 55 counties of West Virginia and part of the time sleeping, as I did last night, at a rest stop to cover this place. When you do, you see businesses and particularly mom and pop businesses, the real small businesses in the state and the nation closing their doors because they can’t survive, because we have created this dynamic that is designed for their failure. We keep trying to work broken business models that only make it worse.
“What I want to focus on is what I know that I can affect. That is a new coal economy for West Virginia, dealing with environmental concerns so that the whole of southern West Virginia doesn’t become a superfund site that is uninhabitable.
“That is tragic: To think that we have given our state and our heritage up to these out of state landowners, these corporations that have no interest in our culture, our history and our people. Only as workers. We need to change the way that we do business and we need to change the way we do politics in this state. That is why I have worked so hard, for so long. We are celebrating one decade of having a party for the people that has no corporate influence, no special interest money. (A party) that is for the people of West Virginia to protect the culture, the history, the environment, the justice for the people of West Virginia.
“(West Virginians) have a choice. They don’t have to hold their nose and vote for anyone. They can vote for their future, for their children and their grandchildren and they can do it in this election by voting for Jesse Johnson.”