These aren’t the best of days for Don Blankenship, whose systematic downplaying of safety concerns as the CEO of Massey Energy helped lead to last week’s deadly mining disaster, and got him named the “seventh scariest person in America.” But by next January, things may be looking up for the hard-charging coal boss: He could have a very close friend in Congress.
Elliot “Spike” Maynard is running in the Republican primary to take on Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), whose district encompasses the heart of West Virginia coal country. Maynard, a former State Supreme Court judge, has said that his campaign “is about protecting the coal industry, including all the jobs associated with it,” and has charged that Washington Democrats have “declared war on the coal industry.”
But Maynard also has personal ties to the industry. He spent part of the summer of 2006 hanging out with Blankenship in Monte Carlo — at the same time that Massey was appealing a $50 million jury verdict to the court on which Maynard sat. (You can see pictures of the two men living it up on the French Riviera here.) A spokesman for Massey claimed it was a coincidence that the two men were vacationing in the same region. The following year, Maynard voted with the majority in a 3-2 decision in Massey’s favor, reversing the jury’s verdict.
Maynard never disclosed the meetings. They came out only in 2008, when they were included in a motion for a new hearing filed by lawyers for Massey’s courtroom opponents, ultimately forcing Maynard to recuse himself.
The fallout from the pictures hampered Maynard’s 2008 re-election campaign to the bench, and he finished a distant third in the Democratic primary. But he’s remained active in local politics, and how he’s back as a Republican — and talking a big game, charging that Rahall — who’s held the seat since 1976 — is too close to President Obama and Democratic leaders. Last week, Maynard invited Sarah Palin to visit a West Virginia coal mine. “West Virginians love Sarah because she has the same values we have,” said Maynard in a press release. “She is against Obamacare and is for smaller government, and she strongly supports coal and all other forms of cheap energy. Remember Sarah is the one who said ‘drill baby drill.’”
Maynard’s campaign hasn’t yet filed reports with the FEC, so it’s unclear whether Blankenship and his employees have contributed to his campaign. But it’s not hard to guess who the Massey CEO is rooting for.