Virginia Democratic senator and former Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine recently received handshakes and applause for his role in passing legislation that would extend black lung benefits and supporting miners’ unions in his home state.  Kaine was visiting  Southwest Virginia last week on and stopped by the United Mine Workers of America’s  office in Castlewood to meet with union Vice President-at-Large James Gibbs, representative Josh West and about 20 of other of the union’s members.  Gibbs praised Kaine and Virginia Senator Mark Warner for supporting the union and helping protect its pension and health benefits.

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“We’ve got two senators that fought for us and lived with us,” Gibbs said, noting that Republican Griffith “didn’t vote for any of our bills.”

“Nationally, one out of 10 miners will be diagnosed with black lung,” noted Sen. Kaine. “In Central Appalachia, one in five will be diagnosed.”

“It will be hard to do this if the governor isn’t on board,” Kaine added, referring to far-right Virginia Governor Glenn Younkin.

Tim Kaine via Flickr / Tim Pierce

“You overlook us at your peril,” Gibbs said of politicians looking for support. “We are not going to overlook anyone who doesn’t overlook us,” calling back memories of Younkin’s election last year, claiming that then incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s failure to visit the mining country of Southwest Virginia was a factor in his 80,000-vote loss against Youngkin.  “He lost every coal county by 60,000 votes…You have miners in 82 coal counties, and we spend a ton of our pension and benefits in Virginia.”

Southeast Virginia could be seen as a microcosm of the national scene, as more and more formerly far-right areas across the country are starting to question that allegiance, giving Democrats in congress a little glimmer of hope in what has been seen as a near-lock in losing majorities, especially in the House.

Tim Kaine via Flickr / Tim Pierce

Gibbs flat out claimed that racism plays a big part in Southeast Virginia politics, and maybe that is starting to shift:

“I’ve heard all this stuff about Obama. We lost Rick Boucher because he hugged Obama. Everyone said it was because he was a Democrat. No. It was a lot of racism going on here, and we all know it. I’ll tell you up front. Obama hadn’t had one vote and he wasn’t even president, and yet he lost Dickenson County, Buchanan County, Wise County, Tazewell County, all these counties and they always voted Democratic.

I’m not saying that you had to vote for Obama…but I’m saying we lost Rick Boucher in the process. It wasn’t because of how he voted for what he stood for. He stood with Obama and people voted because he was Black. Be honest with yourself. You know it’s the damned truth. … When you vote, do the research and see who supports you all. Don’t vote against your own interest.”

While Kaine noted that current victories like this could be rolled back if Congress were to flip red in November and subsequent elections, he noted that he is “feeling better about the midterms.”

Gibbs echoed that, stressing his union’s position on Griffith’s re-election bid:

“We gave him every chance and he lied to us.”

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Christopher Powell