December 27, 2023

Statesman of the Year: As partisan politics gear up for 2024 election year, West Virginia's Joe Manchin looks for a path to better government

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said he received an early lesson in politics from his father, and it’s one he’s never forgotten.

“Dad was never big in me getting into politics,” Manchin said during a recent in-depth interview. “My Uncle Jimmy (A. James Manchin) was the politician, but Dad always warned me it was a tough business.”

But the desire to become a public servant led Joe Manchin to politics, and his dad made sure he understood the responsibility.

“I remember when I had an acquaintance that told me he was going to support me and then he didn’t. When I was elected, my dad called me up and said to come talk to him.

“He said, ‘So you’re upset with so-and-so. Now, you want to shut him out and do something to get back, make him more miserable because he lied.’

“He told me if I was going to do that, I needed to go to the courthouse tomorrow to see how much the guy paid in taxes. He said then you write a check for his taxes.

“And I’m like, Dad, why would I do that? And he said, ‘Well, you don’t want to serve him as a constituent.’ And I said, ‘Dad I can’t do that.’

“He says, ‘Then keep your mouth shut and take care of friend or foe. Because the day you get elected, everything else goes away.’

“And that’s the way I’ve approached it. It was the best advice I ever got.”

Whether friend or foe, Democrat or Republican, Joe Manchin has made it a practice to listen — and more importantly, to learn from differing voices.

It’s why he’s been blessed to serve in the U.S. Senate for the past 14 years and why prior to that he rose through the West Virginia political ranks, from the House and Senate to secretary of state and then governor. During that time period, he lost only one race, the Democratic nomination for governor in 1996.

Prior to his announcement that he would leave the Senate at the end of 2024, Manchin’s battle to keep bipartisanship a common practice, to strengthen U.S. energy and national security policy, had earned him WV News/The State Journal’s Statesman of the Year honor, which seems even more fitting considering his plans for the remainder of his term.

Plans for the future

Rumors have mounted that Manchin would seek a third-party nomination for president in 2024. There’s even some talk that he might become a candidate on the Democratic ticket should President Joe Biden’s polling numbers continue to plummet and the party looks to move more toward the center to offset the strength of former President Donald Trump.

Manchin hasn’t committed to seeking higher office, only to taking his message to as many people as possible while continuing to serve the people of West Virginia and the nation.

“I’ll travel and talk to anyone willing to listen and share their insight,” Manchin said. “What’s the purpose of being involved in public service unless you can help and make an improvement? Help people make it better for them.

“The only way you can do that is working with people that might not have the same views you have and trying to find a pathway for that improvement. Our Constitution says a more perfect union. We know it’s not perfect, but can you make it better than what it is?”

He is adamant that the people of the country must be involved if they want to see their government — and the nation — improve.

“If you think the politics in Washington, with the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, are going to change what direction they’ve gone right now … when their business model is doing extremely well and people are sending money from everywhere — they’re not going to change.

“So someone has to explain to the people you’ve got to get involved in changes. If you can force and get reasonable people involved in the system again — centrist moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans — you’ll be fine.

“There’s only one party that matters, and it’s the American party. Party politics should never interfere in doing what’s right for the people.”

Man in the middle

Ironically, the bipartisanship that earns Joe Manchin high marks in statesmanship at times makes him the target of disdain, sometimes from both parties.

He says criticism or praise won’t change him in terms of principles and his goal of serving the public. Despite being from one of the nation’s strongholds in coal mining, as well as natural gas, Manchin has long supported methods to improve their usage, as well as increased support of renewable energy.

He believes the United States must tighten border security, but also be open to increased legal immigration, to help bolster the workforce in the country as the population continues to age.

And he remains a staunch supporter of longtime rules in regards to decorum, dress and the filibuster.

“When Republicans had control, Democrats wanted to keep them from changing the filibuster rules. Then when Democrats got control, they wanted to change the filibuster,” Manchin said.

“You weaken the filibuster, you weaken government and the Senate becomes just like the House; we see how that is.

“I have the letters where the Democrats (in the Senate) all wrote to [Republican Sen.] Mitch McConnell to urge him not to change the filibuster. Now they talk like they want to. I didn’t change. They changed.

“I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. I’ve never changed. I’ll try to help anybody. The difference is, I just do not believe the government was designed in a democracy to be your provider. It was designed to be your partner. You have to have the compassion to help the ones who need it, but if you didn’t push the people to help themselves, the ones who can, you’d be a socialist system.”

Still building his legacy

To be sure, Manchin is building his legacy and will work on key projects for West Virginia and the nation until his final days on the Senate floor.

But when asked what he hoped he’d be remembered for, the Marion County native paused to reflect on his career.

“I would like to think that I’ve given them the service they can be proud of,” Manchin said. “Whether on the floor of the Senate, on national news shows or public appearances, I’ve tried to elevate the heritage and culture of this great state — things we don’t always get credit for.

“On top of that, helping to change the state’s energy portfolio, to improve it with the Mountain Valley Pipeline ... to help energize America and create more jobs.”

He also mentioned his work to win coal miners their promised pensions and health benefits, as well as helping to improve broadband connectivity in the Mountain State.

“If it helps West Virginia and the nation, we’ve tried to make it happen,” Manchin said. “And we’ll continue to work hard to make even better things happen.”

By:  John Miller
Source: WV News