Julia Roberts Goad
Technology enabled Mingo County High School students to get up close and personal with one of their representatives in Washington Wednesday.
Sen. Joe Manchin talked with students via Skype, an internet-based program that allows users to communicate by using a microphone and webcam.
Manchin was asked questions by students from Barry Hatfield’s AP Civics class.
Bryce Smith started the event by asking why the senator went into politics. He explained that he got a relatively late start in his political career, at age 35.
He said watching the political process gave him the impression that it was simply a matter of people “doing favors” for those who could help further their political careers instead of representing the best interests of their constituents, and it angered him.
“That went through me like a knife,” Manchin said. “I started in the state House of Delegates, then Secretary of State then Governor, and now as a Senator.”
Some of the questions students asked related to West Virginia particularly, such as how Manchin feels about the Environmental Protection Agency and a proposed MTV series based on young Mountaineers.
The Senator told Jordan Gibson he found dealing with the EPA “challenging” when dealing with regulations regarding coal mining.
“The federal government should be a partner on all levels,” he said. “The EPA doesn’t look at what we have done or what we can do.We have cleaned up more in the past 20 years than ever before. There needs to be a balance between the environment and the economy. We need to work with the government to research and learn how to use coal in a better way.”
B.J. Warden asked about Manchin’s opposition to a new reality series on MTV, Buckwild, based on some young adults living in the Kanawha County community of Sissonville. Manchin said he did not feel the series showed an accurate portrayal of West Virginians.
“I believe in the First Amendment,” Manchin said. “But I take offense to them saying this is reality.”
He went on to say the producers’ aim is to reinforce negative stereotypes.
“I am out trying to sell our state every day,” he said. “This is people at their worst behavior, it is not what we are.”
But the teenagers also had questions about politics on the national level.
Garth Simpkins asked what issues the Senator and President Obama agreed on, and which issues they differed on.
“The President is aggressive on education, and I like that,” Manchin said. “Right now, American students don’t rank number one in anything, we can’t compete.”
Manchin said he approves of Obama’s policy of ending the wars in the Middle East and the way he is fighting terrorism.
“We are going after terrorists before they can come to us,” Manchin said. “But it is not our responsibility to rebuild their country, or restructure their economy.”
But the Senator said he and the President have differing views on how the country should meet future energy needs. Manchin said he favors an “all in” policy, meaning that the country would meet its energy needs from a combination of sources including coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.
“We also disagree on getting our financial house in order,” Manchin went on to say. “We are getting in a position where we cannot even help ourselves. President Obama is our leader, he needs to help our country become strong with good, solid financial policy.”
Brandon Evans also expressed concerns about the disagreement among our leaders in Washington over the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations.
“When I was governor, and we had a problem, I would get leaders from both sides together,” Manchin said. “We would talk, and then at the end we asked what was the best thing to do for West Virginia, we did not let politics get ahead of that.”
He said both Democrats and Republicans both fear making decisions that would give their opposition an advantage.
“Everyone wants to get credit,” Manchin said. “ It is a hostile and toxic atmosphere, and no one is rising above that.”
In the end, Manchin told the Mingo County students that the future of the state and the country lies in their hands.
“The constitution calls for a government by the people, for the people, and that is you,” he said. “Get involved now, don’t wait until you’re 35 like I did. My father told me life is like a bank; you can take out what you didn’t put in. Use your opportunities, I believe in you.”