By Ron Gregory
RACINE – Natalie Tennant is officially the U.S. Senate candidate of the United Mine Workers of America.
UMWA officials made the announcement several times Monday afternoon as about 500 gathered for the 76th annual UMWA Labor Day Celebration in Boone County.
Tennant and her husband, state Sen. Erik Wells, were on hand to accept the recognition as Tennant delivered a lengthy address to the crowd gathered on a hot, muggy September afternoon. Tennant, the current Democrat West Virginia Secretary of State, talked of her working background and said she “stands united with all the union workers of West Virginia.”
Tennant is running against Charleston U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for the Senate seat being vacated by West Virginia’s senior Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat.
The secretary of state spoke of her roots in the coalfields of northern West Virginia and said she “always remembers those who gave their lives, including those in the No. 9 mine disaster in 1968.” She said that tragic incident “brought about mine safety legislation in 1969.”
While discussing mine safety, Tennant reminded the audience that she supports the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Act, but noted that Capito has “voted against mine safety over and over as a member of Congress.”
She drew loud applause when she noted that Capito “has voted against equal pay for equal work at least five times.”
Tennant added, “While you and I were rallying in Pittsburgh on behalf of coal miners, do you know where Congresswoman Capito was? She was voting to cut and privatize Social Security and sneaking around with Patriot Coal executives who are trying to cut your retirement benefits.”
Third District U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall rallied the troops with a strong speech regarding veterans, miners and teachers. Locked in a battle with Democrat-turned-Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins, Rahall said veterans must be honored “for giving us the right to be here today.” He said miners have “made the United States powerful by supplying the energy needs for generations.” Teachers, the veteran congressman said, “are molding the future of our country.”
Rahall said complacency is the biggest concern for the Nov. 4 election. “I tell folks, if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,” he told the crowd. “But I sincerely want every one of you to vote this fall.”
He also took a slap at former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who recently campaigned with GOP candidates in the Mountain State. “He famously fought against coal power plants and said ‘coal kills’ while governor of Massachusetts. Now, my opponent embraces him and calls him a hero? Who’s he a hero to? Certainly not hard-working coal miners.”
State Sen. Ron Stollings of Boone County spoke early, urging continued diversification of the Southern West Virginia economy. While Stollings said, “I will also stand for and with coal miners,” he said some changes in economic strategy are “needed to secure a bright future for us all.”
Others on hand for the day included state Treasurer John Perdue, Boone County Clerk Gary Williams, Boone Circuit Clerk Sue Ann Zickefoose, Mingo County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield, Boone County Commissioner Eddie Hendricks and Lincoln County Delegate Jeff Eldridge. Former Logan County Clerk Glen “Hound Dog” Adkins supplied the pork barbecue. The Boone Democrat Executive Committee sponsored a booth selling refreshments and other food items.
AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue claimed sources had told him that Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey “had Shelley Moore Capito T-shirts in his Attorney General booth at Clarksburg.” Perdue predicted that “voters will retire the attorney general in two years.”
No spokesman was available for Morrisey to respond to the charges Monday although a message was left with his press spokeswoman.
The Racine event is traditionally the kickoff to the fall campaign in West Virginia. In past elections, some candidates have fatally doomed their campaigns by making recorded statements that were later used against them. There appeared to be no such slip-ups Monday, however. Tennant and Rahall worked the crowd as they usually do, exchanging pleasantries with well-wishers.
Capito has attended the picnic at times in the past but her announced schedule said she would be in Marmet for a parade Monday morning and made no mention of the UMWA event. Later Monday, after the Tennant endorsement, the Capito campaign released a statement saying Capito is the candidate for “hard-working West Virginia coal miners.”