This article originally provided by The Daily Mail

January 16, 2006

Blankenship taking aim at Bob Kiss

Kris Wise
Daily Mail staff

Coal company president Don Blankenship plans to spend money and time in the coming months rallying against the re-election of House Speaker Bob Kiss.

Blankenship, who spent millions of dollars in late 2004 running an ad campaign that helped defeat longtime Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, has a full legislative agenda right now. He said he'll spend whatever it takes to spur lawmakers to repeal the state's food tax altogether during their ongoing 60-day legislative session, and he predicts that by the end of the year the tax will be gone.

He also names Kiss, D-Raleigh, as one of many legislators he will work to defeat before November's election.

"The problem we have right now is that one individual has control over the votes of one entire party," said Blankenship, president and chief executive office of Massey Energy Co. "His procedural approach is where he won't allow things to come to the House floor and he bottles them up in committee. He conducts the House entirely out of view of public eye."

Kiss did not respond to a message left for him at his Capitol office. He has not yet publicly announced whether he intends to run for re-election this year, but political pundits expect he's gearing up for one more term, what would be his sixth as House Speaker.

The Democratic Party has closely watched Blankenship since he began shelling out millions of dollars last year on advertising campaigns aimed at swaying voters on a bevy of political races and issues. He spent $500,000 last year trying to defeat Gov. Joe Manchin's pension bond proposal, which eventually was shot down by voters.

Blankenship has pledged to do much the same thing this year.

"The rumor has been that I'm going to get involved in every single race," Blankenship acknowledged. "I don't think that will be the case, but I'll be heavily engaged."

Blankenship devoted more than $2.5 million to the Supreme Court race between Democrat incumbent Warren McGraw and Republican challenger Brent Benjamin. What started out as a likely landslide victory for McGraw changed course after Blankenship began a full-scale media assault against the Democrat, and Benjamin won the election by a 6 percent margin.

Blankenship said he's hard-pressed to say how much money he's willing to spend this time buying advertising and campaigning against candidates he wants to see kept out of office come November.

"It's going to be different this year in that it will be broader," Blankenship said. "There will be a lot more candidates involved. There is a certain group of legislators or lawmakers who are just not representing their constituents."

Blankenship said he sees a disconnect between what the average West Virginian wants from the Legislature and what the political climate of the Capitol allows lawmakers to provide.

He blames Kiss, in part, for creating that environment.

"Bob Kiss needs to step down," Blankenship said Friday. "He has a lot of influence and he takes positions without the discomfort of thought. When you look at the biggest problems we have, where West Virginia is lowest on the lists, we certainly aren't doing the right things, and Bob Kiss is a big part of that."

Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey could not be reached for comment this morning.

The GOP could again find a strong ally in Blankenship during this year's legislative session as they go head to head with Democrats over some of the most divisive issues. Before Blankenship begins to tackle this year's election ballot, he also plans to wage a campaign to influence taxpayers -- and in turn, lawmakers -- on a variety of issues, namely tax reform.

His priority during this year's legislative session is to encourage voters to call for a total repeal of the state's 5 percent food tax.

Gov. Manchin and the Legislature last year chopped the tax by one percent, and have said they might consider another reduction again this year.

Blankenship said a slow cutback isn't good enough when the state is looking at a $338 million surplus at the end of the year.

"I'll spend whatever it takes to get rid of the food tax because it's worth about $125 million to West Virginians, and I know it won't cost that much," he said. "The tax is just improper."

Blankenship said his hot-button campaigns aren't directed at legislators.

"I don't need lawmakers because I've got 700,000 voters," Blankenship said. "It's not really the legislators, but it's the public I'm trying to reach. My whole objective is to keep them informed, because I don't think the legislators are informing them."

Blankenship said he also most likely would spend money on ad campaigns advocating a restructuring of the state's gas and vehicle taxes.

The Williamson area resident said he's likely to keep investing his wealth in such political action campaigns rather than ever spending money trying to get himself elected to office, as some political observers suspect he will do.

"Somebody can give a million dollars to an athletic stadium and no one ever questions if they want to play football," Blankenship said. "I don't have any interest in being in the political game, but I wish the political game would stay out of the lives of West Virginians."

Contact writer Kris Wise at 348-1244.


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