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Joe Manchin, the Good Ol’ Corporate Boy From West Virginia

Photo Source United States Senate | CC BY 2.0

A single Democrat voted in the US Senate with the Republicans to confirm the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

The Democrat in question, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a so-called “maverick”, replied “I’m just a good old West Virginia boy” when askedby reporters if he thought there was a “still place in the Democratic Party for you after this (his vote to support Kavanaugh)”.

Manchin may be from West Virginia, but “good ol’ boy” purely and simply he certainly is not–“rich ol’ boy” would be more accurate.

According to The Washington Examiner, Manchin has made more than $5 million in in profits since entering the Senate in 2011, most of it from his family business (the coal brokerage firm Enersystems Inc).

Manchin sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee which oversees the industry that fills his pockets.  He maintains that this is not a conflict of interest because his Enersystems portfolio has been put in a “blind trust”.

But you don’t have to be a genius to know that any policy benefitting the coal industry will in all probability enhance what’s in Manchin’s blind trust, which of course can be unwound once the rich ol’ boy leaves office.

Dick Cheney said something similar when he put his Haliburton portfolio in a blind trust, but we know damn well that his administration’s rampage through Iraq was going to be mighty good business for Haliburton, and hence would augment willy nilly what was in Cheney’s supposedly blind trust.

Manchin belongs to a minor West Virginian political dynasty. His father and grandfather were mayors of Farmington, West Virginia. An uncle was a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the state’s Secretary of State and Treasurer.

Wealthy though he may be, Manchin is not the wealthiest member of his immediate family. That designation belongs his daughter Heather Manchin (later Bresch).

In a previous piecein CounterPunch I described Heather Bresch’s role as the head of Mylan, a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical  giant.

After her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University Heather was looking for a job.  Her father, then a state assemblyman, ran into Mylan’s co-founder, the late Milan Puskar, at a WVU basketball game.

Mylan hired Heather for an entry-level position shortly afterwards. Joe Manchin became West Virginia’s governor, and records show Mylan benefitted from corporate tax-breaks worth millionsin the state during Manchin’s gubernatorial tenure.

At the same time, after spells as Mylan’s director of government relations and strategic development, Heather Bresch became the company’s CEO.

Bresch acquired an MBA from WVU in 2007, awarded to her even though she failed to meet the MBA’s degree requirements. A 2008 investigation showed that the WVU administration had falsified her official university records in order for her to receive this degree while engaging in a subsequent cover-up, perhaps motivated by Mylan’s lucrative relationship with WVU— its co-founder Puskar (Bresch’s corporate mentor) donated over $20 million to WVU and had its football stadium named after him.  Her degree was rescinded, and there were firings and resignations en mass in the administration.

None of the above would probably have become known widely until Mylan made headlines for a stratospheric price-increase of its epinephrine EpiPen while increasing the compensation of Bresch by an even vaster amount. To quote from an NBC NEWS report:

 … filings show that from 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s total compensation went from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068, a 671 percent increase. During the same period, the company raised EpiPen prices, with the average wholesale price going from $56.64 to $317.82, a 461 percent increase….

Experts have determined that an EpiPen costs around $35 to produce, so this was price-gouging on a monumental scale.

Mylan also shifted these obscene profits offshore– it moved its corporate registration to the Netherlands to avoid paying US federal taxes.

The only Democrat to do so, Senator Joe Manchin III voted for the appointment of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as US attorney-general, a position Sessions assumed in February 2017.  Coincidentally, in October 2017 Mylanfinalizeda $465 million out-of-court settlement with the US Justice Department, and so an appearance before a judge and perhaps jail-time for its CEO (the senator’s daughter) were preempted.

Meanwhile West Virginia is not doing too well.  According to US News and World Report, it ranks poorly among the 50 states on every indicator: Health Care #44, Education #45, Economy #49, Opportunity #23, Infrastructure #50, Crime & Corrections #31, Fiscal Stability #36, and Quality of Life #45.

So what does the good ol’ boy/rich ol’ boy from West Virginia get up to in the US Senate?

Manchin has voted with Republicans on issues such as abortion and gun ownership (he’s a member of the NRA and has their A rating). He opposed Obama’s energy policies– which made small gestures towards renewables, and that would of course be bad for Manchin’s Enersystems portfolio.

Manchin voted against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, and for removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood in 2015.

He voted to confirm most of Trump’s cabinet and judicial appointees.  In February 2018 Congressional Quarterly showedthat Manchin had voted with Trump’s positions 71% of the time (for instance, he supports the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico, building the Keystone XL pipeline, and selling arms to the murderous Saudi regime).

Manchin voted with Republicans to water-down the Dodd-Frank banking rules introduced after the financial crash of 2008.

Despite the fact that he voted against the repeal of Obamacare and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, Manchin has the most conservative voting record among Senate Democrats. When asked to defend this record, Manchin does his good ol’ boy schtick, or else says he’s “Joe Manchin” and not “D” or “R”.

Joe Manchin is for Joe Manchin, not the Democrats, and certainly not the well-being of the people of Virginia.

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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