Jan 15 2013

 

 

Appstates2012Presidential Returns From 2012 In Appalachia

Remember all the stories in the last election from Ohio, West Virginia and other Appalachian states where owners of the coal mines demanded that mine workers attend Mitt Romney rallies or lose their jobs? Remember those same owners saying that if the workers voted for President Obama that the companies would be forced to lay off thousands?

In many ways, these corporate coal giants have been very successful and Appalachia has not only become more Republican but also is one of the least tolerant areas in America. The ugliness with racism, homophobia and sexism is alive and thriving in the region. Move over Mississippi and Alabama since you are no longer the champions of intolerance.

The National Journal's Reid Wilson wrote "The Shift Of King Coal" which is a spectacular piece outlining the political history of this region. He believes that Senator Jay Rockefeller retiring is a sure sign of the increasing Republican domination of a stretch from Arkansas to Central New York.

Reid writes about the history of the region but be sure to read all of his intelligent article.

"When West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller formally announced his decision to quit the Senate on Friday, he opened the next chapter in one of the few true historic shifts taking place in American politics. Even before his announcement, Republicans were eyeing his seat as a prime pickup opportunity, a reflection of the ascendance of the Republican Party in Appalachia, a shift in which working-class white voters who have reliably cast ballots for Democratic politicians for the better part of a century are moving inexorably, and perhaps permanently, toward the Republican Party.

That's because in Appalachia, coal is still king.

Last June, Senate observers were surprised when Rockefeller, a long-time backer of his state's dominant industry, stood on the Senate floor lambasting energy companies for launching "carefully orchestrated messages that strike fear into the hearts of West Virginians." He attacked coal operators for denying the need to address climate change, and for resisting a lower-carbon environment.

Those familiar with Appalachian politics were surprised too -- that Rockefeller, by attacking King Coal, had effectively announced his retirement that day.

The shift away from the Democratic Party underway today isn't the first time Appalachia has changed its political identity. After the Civil War, coal country was reliably Republican. During the war, West Virginia itself seceded from the Commonwealth of Virginia to stay with the Republican Union. Between 1896 and 1928, West Virginia voted as Republican as Northeastern states; it voted Democratic only once, in 1912.

But the Coal Wars of the 1920s helped boost a mine workers' union that grew in size and political influence. And while the union dominated, it supplied a reliable stream of votes to the Democratic Party. Between 1932 and 1996, Republicans won West Virginia only in 1956, 1972 and 1984, all amid national waves. Kentucky, where the coal industry is equally powerful, was similarly a reliably Democratic state; it voted Republican only twice between 1900 and 1952, and it cast its electoral votes for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996.

"Appalachia, particularly Kentucky, East Tennessee and Pennsylvania, were very Republican after the Civil War and remained that way for a very long time," said Mike Duncan, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a native of Kentucky coal country. "The mining wars and unionization flipped them hard Democrat in the 1930s."

Clinton was the last Democrat to win either state. During his administration, the environmental movement began to gain traction and importance within the Democratic Party, and the party itself gravitated more toward the liberal coasts than it had previously. And the Environmental Protection Agency, a bureau created by a Republican president, began asserting its will more broadly, issuing regulations that the coal industry opposed. That combination of factors, Republicans and Democrats alike agree, conspired to give the impression of a Democratic Party that no longer had Appalachia's interests at heart.

"When you attack guns and coal, you're attacking what they in the mountains consider their birthright," said Jim Cauley, a Democratic strategist and Kentucky native who managed President Obama's campaign for U.S. Senate in 2004. "They'll feel like you're attacking their culture."