October 23, 2011

Sen. Manchin: 'Listen, it’s just Joe,' | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Sometimes, and quite unintentionally, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says that people from West Virginia slip and call him “Gov. Manchin.”

It’s reasonable, considering that Manchin left the governor’s seat less than a year ago. It’s understandable, considering that Manchin had among the highest approval ratings nationwide during his time in the governor’s seat. He was first elected in 2004 with 63.5 percent of the vote. When he ran for re-election in 2008, he earned 70 percent of the vote.

So the former governor, eventually elected last year as senator after the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, will sometimes get “Gov. Manchin ... sorry ... Sen. Manchin ...”

“When I came to Washington, at the highest level here, I still am who I am,” Manchin said Friday from his offices in Washington, D.C.

“Listen, it’s just Joe. It’s been Joe from the beginning. And I will be Joe at the end. And I’m going stay Joe in between.”

That’s what some of the mainstream media just don’t get, he explained.

He was referring to an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, which said that Manchin has been distancing himself from the Obama administration and his time in Washington has been time spent “acting like a Republican.”

The article went on to say “Mr. Manchin is the most outspoken of a group of Senate Democrats who are facing reelection in swing states next year—and who are keeping their distance from the president. While Mr. Obama is trying to make his case for a second term, some of these lawmakers are criticizing major elements of his agenda in a sign that among Democrats, the 2012 election could turn into an every-man-for- himself brawl.”

“I’ve been in politics so long and at so many levels, I get everything in the world said about me, and people either know you or they don’t know you,” Manchin said. “But what I say is this: I think that I know my state. I have unconditional love for the state of West Virginia. I am West Virginia through and through. And I am a proud Democrat.” 

But public service defies labels, he explained, whether it be political party affiliation, conservative or liberal, and even the title of the office you hold. 

“If you are in the position to help and do something, speak the truth as you know it, represent the people who sent you here, and not worry about representing yourself but representing the people of your state, you’ll be fine,” Manchin said. “If that’s conservative, if that’s mainstream, if that’s centrist, then call me what you want. 

“I truly believe the people of West Virginia want some common- sense solutions,” he said. 

So when Manchin is accused of “acting like a Republican,” his response is that people just don’t understand the state of West Virginia. 

“We’re responsible. I guess being a responsible Democrat is acting like something they want to stereotype. My God, I’d like to think that it would be acting like a responsible American,” Manchin said. “Should we not spend more than we have? Should we have a budget where we live within our means? That’s how I was raised. That’s how the state of West Virginia was operated when I was there.” 

So if people want to label Manchin as fiscally conservative, they ought to remember that he isn’t socially conservative, he said. “I will reach out to help anyone, but by God, I will try to push you to help yourself and make you understand that you should help yourself,” Manchin said. “If I’m going to be investing the money of hard-working taxpayers’ dollars, they have a right to get a return on their investment, and that means to help you be a productive citizen again so you can help, too. 

“I don’t know how that could be Democrat or Republican; that’s a responsible American and a responsible West Virginian,” he said. 

But it’s not surprise that the West Virginian’s Manchin represents are among the states that have the least support for the Obama administration. In fact, a Gallup poll from the first half of 2011 places job-approval rating for Obama in the Mountain State at 33 percent. That probably accounts for the slim 2 percent margin between Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and his Republican challenger Bill Maloney in this month’s special election for the seat Manchin left when he went to Washington, D.C. Maloney’s campaign tied Tomblin to Obama and his health-care legislation. 

But Manchin endured the same kind of association before he ever made it to the Senate. Running against Morgantown businessman John Raese last year, “Washington Joe” was how the Republican campaign described Manchin. The senator pulled out of the association eventually — perhaps the ad campaign that depicted Manchin shooting a gun at the cap-and trade energy bill bolstered his 53.5 percent victory over Raese (43.4 percent) during last fall’s special Senate race. 

But he’s not concerned about the efforts a Republican challenger may make in the 2012 election for his seat to follow the same template. 

“I truly believe at this point in time, in this president’s term, he is out of touch with West Virginia and people like West Virginians,” Manchin explained. “He does not understand that we try to live a balanced life. We think the economy and the environment should be balanced. We should be using all of the resources that we have and have an energy policy that makes sense that makes us less dependent on foreign oil. 

“He is out of touch with West Virginians — they do not connect or relate to him,” Manchin said. 

And during his year in the Senate, Manchin says he has vocally and respectfully disagreed with many of the bills and proposals from the administration that he doesn’t believe stand up to the common-sense test.

Earlier this month, he voted in favor of ending a Republican filibuster on Obama’s jobs act, a measure that procedurally failed, but it wasn’t because he supported the legislation. At the time, Manchin said it was because he wanted the jobs bill on the floor to discuss, debate and amend to a piece of legislation that would make sense. 

Last week, he spoke on the floor of the Senate, asking that the $35 billion Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act be amended to provide funding to states as loans instead of grants. 

“It is clear that our nation is facing two grave economic threats: a jobs crisis and a death spiral of debt,” Manchin said Thursday night on the floor of the Senate. “As much as some people may wish, we simply can’t ignore one threat over the other. For the sake of our nation’s economic future, we must work together – Democrats and Republicans – and try and find a common-sense solution that protects and creates jobs, but does so without adding to our growing deficits and debt.” 

The bill was eventually blocked with a 50-50 vote, with not one Republican voting in favor of keeping discussion on the bill on the Senate floor. Manchin and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller were among the 50 who voted to proceed, but the motion was denied without the three-fifth’s majority. 

He’s also been very vocal about his lack of support for what he calls “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“I’ve identified that we are trying to nation build over there, and we should not be nation building,” Manchin said. “I said let’s rebuild America. 

“I’ve said if you invest in West Virginia and help us build a school or fix a bridge or road, we burn the school down or we won’t blow up the bridge or road. Now that’s about as direct as I can make it about why we should not be over there trying to build those nations’ infrastructure. We should be fighting the war on terror.” 

Though he’s been “respectfully critical” of the president and his administration, Manchin hasn’t give up hope that Obama will recognize his disconnect with the state of West Virginia. But he also hasn’t yet given the president his support for his re-election campaign in 2012. “I keep hoping he realizes that West Virginia plays a big part in this great country. We play a big part in economy in the energy that we produce, and we try to be a productive state in this nation,” Manchin said. “Hopefully he will be able to see that. I really can’t say (whether I would support him). I am still very hopeful that he and his administration will see that.” 

In the meantime, Manchin says he continues to ignore the labels he’s been given by the media and pundits and work in a bipartisan fashion to help the government fix some of the biggest challenges its faced in its history. 

“We were sent her to do that,” he explained. “I wasn’t sent here to worry about the 2012 election. I was worried about the next generation — my children and grandchildren and yours. I feel strong about that and I’m going to speak out. I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and watch the game played out, I’m going to be as involved as I can.” 

His votes aren’t directed in a certain way because he “supposed” to, Manchin said. 

“I’m going to evaluate everything and give you an honest answer on every vote I take,” Manchin said.

By:  Misty Poe
Source: ‘Proud Democrat’ says public service defies political labels