By Senator Joe Manchin
It was a cold November morning just a week after my family’s store had burnt to the ground losing the lives of four people when tragedy struck again. This time there had been an explosion in the Farmington No. 9 mine. My Uncle John, our neighbor and several of my high school classmates worked in that mine. I knew family members of most everyone working in the mine that day. Everyone knew everyone in Farmington.
Over the next several days, I sat with my mother and Aunt Jenny, Uncle John’s wife, desperate for any kind of update. Our whole state was paralyzed as the days drug on and news of the explosion rocked the entire nation with reporters from around the country ascended into Farmington to cover the story. Ultimately, my Uncle John was among the 78 brave coal miners who lost their lives in the Farmington Mine Disaster.
Thirty-eight years later, I could still vividly remember waiting with my mother for news about Uncle John when disaster struck at the Sago Mine in Upshur County trapping 13 brave miners with only one surviving. That same month, an accident at the Aracoma Mine in Logan County killed two miners. Once again, our state was shaken to our core but this time I could do something about it because I was governor.
I vowed we would not leave these families in the dark like we had been left in Farmington. Every few hours we would brief the families, listen to their questions and do everything possible to ease their pain. We prayed with them, ate with them and cried with them when we learned their loved ones had not survived.
Their strength powered us forward as I worked with the West Virginia legislature to pass legislation to update the mine emergency-response systems and impose stricter safety requirements on coal companies. I signed this critical legislation into law shortly after the January mine disasters. In the beginning of February, I ordered all coal mining in the state of West Virginia halt until adequate safety precautions were put in place and tests were conducted. Our state legislation set the stage for federal legislation to improve mine safety. This was just the beginning of our work to ensure every coal miner could return home safely to their family after a hard day’s work.
In the years to come, we fought tooth and nail to secure permanent healthcare and pension benefits for our coal miners and their families. This bipartisan coalition was most recognizable by the United Mine Workers of America who barnstormed the U.S. Capitol for years on end decked out in their camouflage t-shirts. It was my honor to fight hand in hand with them to ensure they received the benefits they rightly earned.
When I reflect on the last 42 years serving West Virginia – in the state legislature, as secretary of state, governor and now as U.S. Senator – it is abundantly clear to me that I would not have accomplished anything without the strength and support of my fellow West Virginians. And we have accomplished so much together.
Most recently, we have worked in a bipartisan way to revitalize the West Virginia energy economy by paying homage to our legacy of coal production and looking to the future to ensure West Virginia remains an energy powerhouse for generations to come. Last month, we announced the ARCH2 Hydrogen Hub will be located in West Virginia creating 20,000 jobs and spurring billions more in investments. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the last 18 months, we’ve announced energy investments that will resolve in nearly 5,000 jobs across the state. And we will continue to see announcements like this across the state in the months and years to come.
We also invested almost a billion dollars in West Virginia broadband to ensure every home in the Mountain State has access to reliable broadband access. And we included $3 billion for West Virginia highways, $506 million to repair aging bridges and $487 million to invest in wastewater and drinking water improvements throughout the state. We have helped bring down the cost of healthcare by capping the cost of insulin at $35 and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.
For the last 13 years, my Senate office has operated the best constituent services team in the United States Senate ensuring the federal government works for West Virginians. We have closed more than 100,000 cases having helped hardworking West Virginians get their Veterans Affairs or Social Security benefits, secure Medicare or helping people in their time of need. And we hosted 75 job fairs across the state connecting thousands of West Virginians with good paying jobs, amongst many other creative ways of bringing good government to people.
After months of deliberation and long conversations with my family, I believe in my heart of hearts that I have accomplished what I set out to do for West Virginia. I am leaving our state better prepared for the future than when I first took office. I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election to the United States Senate, but what I will be doing is finishing my term in the Senate while traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in building a movement to mobilize the middle, finding common ground and bringing Americans together.
To the people of West Virginia who have put your trust in me: It has been the honor of my life to represent you in the West Virginia legislature, as your Governor and as your United States Senator. Thank you for this privilege and I hope you are proud of what we have accomplished together.
To my wife, Gayle, who has also dedicated her career to serving West Virginia and the Appalachian region: None of this would be possible without you, I love you.
To our children and grandchildren: Your patience and support has meant more to me than you will ever know.
And to my staff – from my days as secretary of state, to governor and now to senator – who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of West Virginia: Every day your commitment to public service and to our beautiful state has made me proud. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
When it comes to what is best for West Virginia, our country, and the people I’m privileged to serve, I will never stop fighting to unite Americans.