February 07, 2014

Senator tours Cabell, Wayne counties | Huntington Herald Dispatch

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., topped off a tour of Cabell and Wayne counties Thursday with a stop at Griffith and Feil Soda Fountain in Kenova.

But it wasn't to relax with a milkshake.

The former Mountain State governor fielded some tough questions from constituents for nearly an hour-and-a-half. The topics ranged from health care to the local economy to foreign policy, and then some.

Informally dubbed the "Coffee and Common Sense" town hall meeting, the event was a marathon of political discourse, capping a day that began with the senator touring Cabell Huntington Surgery Center in Huntington, followed by a trip to the Wayne County Senior Center before the trip to Kenova.

Manchin said he encountered similar themes from constituents at all three stops.

"We see the concerns people are having, they have concerns about the economy -- concerns about coal, where we have a lot of good jobs," Manchin said after the town hall event. "They're saying the country needs to hold on to those things, so that's what I will take back with me. If you've got something to replace it with, tell me. If not, work with me."

Manchin also heard concerns from the senior citizen population, a group that is growing rapidly in West Virginia, as to the future of Social Security and other programs.

On other topics, Manchin said he gleaned that West Virginians want sensible immigration reform, withdrawal of armed forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and better infrastructure, along with a more fair tax system.

"They don't begrudge anyone the chance for a better life for their family, just do it the right way," Manchin said. "So, if you came here illegally, pay your fine, get in the back of the line, learn English, pay your taxes, become an American. They don't want discrimination, they just want something that makes sense."

Manchin said that thread of common sense stretched over into what he was hearing on foreign policy.

"We're a very hawkish state, we'll fight anybody if it's for the right reason; if we're defending our country," he said. "That's not what's happening right now, so get out.

"I don't go back and say 'Well, the Democrats of West Virginia said this, or the Republicans of West Virginia said that.' I don't know if they're Democrats or Republicans, I just know that they're talking about what seems like common sense."

Manchin did take a bit of a step onto a political limb when, un-prompted from those present in Kenova, he began to talk about gun control.

The senator has taken a beating from the right after proposing tougher background checks for firearms after the Newtown, Conn., massacre that killed 26 people, 20 of them elementary school students, in December 2012.

"We are a gun-culture state, and I'm a defender of the 2nd Amendment (the Constitutional right to bear arms)," Manchin said.

Manchin teamed up with Republican Senator Pat Tooney to craft the legislation, when he came under a wave of attack ads from the National Rifle Association.

"I talked to Pat and we thought we had come up with something that made sense," Manchin said. "But it hit a wall, and I think that happened because the people don't trust their government."

Manchin, who has quickly garnered a reputation as a bi-partisan politician in his efforts to fight tougher regulations from the Obama administration that would hurt the coal industry, assured the crowd in Kenova that he wasn't going to change.

"I don't want you to change, either," he said. "The people of West Virginia, you've always worked hard and your moral values have always been high."