Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday, more than four years after an explosion at his company's Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 coal miners. The four-count indictment alleges that Blankenship "conspired to commit and cause routine violations of mandatory federal mine safety standards" in order to "produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money." (Blankenship was also indicted for allegedly making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.)
Blankenship, characteristically, is not backing down. In a statement, his attorney, William Taylor, said that "Mr. Blankenship is entirely innocent of these charges. He will fight them and he will be acquitted." Taylor called Blankenship "a tireless advocate for mine safety" and argued the prosecution had been triggered by Blankenship's "outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats."
But the 43-page indictment tells a different story—in which Massey employees devised secret codes to thwart safety inspectors, and workers risked drowning while laboring in flooded mines that lacked even the minimum safety precautions.
Republicans had a pretty good night last Tuesday. They won control of the Senate and added to their already-sizable House majority. They now hold 33 governors' mansions and 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers. But even as they solidified their grip on state governments, they came up short in one red state they'd trained their sights on—Kentucky. And that's bad news for Sen. Rand Paul.
While the national GOP's resources primarily targeted the state's Senate race, Paul focused his attention on winning control of the Democratic-controlled Legislature in Frankfort. His reasons went beyond mere party loyalty—he wanted a GOP statehouse majority to pass a bill, written with him in mind, that would allow a politician to run for Senate and president in the same year. He's up for reelection in 2016, and is also seriously considering a White House bid. But given the depth of the GOP presidential field that year, he doesn't want to bet the house on winning the nomination.
For Paul, a.k.a. the best-dressed man in Washington, this is hardly a deal-breaker. He got some good news on Wednesday, when Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom Paul dutifully backed in the face of a tea party primary challenge, all but endorsed his presidential bid. And if Paul were to drop out of the race early (say, in the face of an unstoppable Mitt Romney wave), there'd be plenty of time to get back into Senate reelection mode. But the longer he stays in the hunt, the more difficult things will become on the home front.
Oops. Last year, fresh from a presidential reelection campaign in which it was hailed for its 21st-century tactics and organizing prowess, a group of Obama for America veterans descended on Texas with the goal of turning the state purple. They launched a new group, Battleground Texas, raised millions from wealthy donors, and teamed up with a rising Democratic star running for statewide office. What happened next will...probably not shock you.
In the first test-drive for Battleground Texas, Democrats got trounced, losing every statewide race for the 16th consecutive year. In the much-hyped governor's race, state Sen. Wendy Davis lost to Attorney General Greg Abbott by 21 points. She fared only two points better than the sacrificial lamb running for agriculture commissioner, who didn't campaign at all. But Republicans didn't just fend off Davis, or rile up their base against a Democrat whom activists mocked as "abortion Barbie"—they ran up the score, and did so in all the places where Democrats were supposed to take baby steps.
When Battleground Texas first launched, 2014 was considered too much, too soon. But when Davis entered the race, fresh off of an 11-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill, the calculus changed. The group merged its offices with Davis' gubernatorial campaign, set about building an army of 34,000 canvassers, lawyers, and voter-registration volunteers, and looked to pick off low-hanging fruit wherever it could.
The idea was that an Obama-style organizing operation could make a real impact in down-ballot races, which are traditionally less sophisticated. It didn't.
"Tonight's decisive victory proves they picked the wrong battleground," boasted GOP state Sen. Dan Patrick.
Battleground invested in a dozen state-legislature races, targeting House and Senate districts that will have to turn purple for anyone at the top of the ticket to have a chance—East Dallas, the Houston suburbs, and a South Texas seat held by a party-switching state represenative. Democrats didn't win a single one, and most of the races weren't even close. In Harris County (Houston), where Democrats talked of tapping into the roughly 800,000 nonregistered potential voters, Davis lost by four points. (The Dem's 2010 nominee, Bill White, won it by two.) In the final indignity, Democrats even lost Davis' state Senate seat to a pro-life tea party Republican.
"Tonight's decisive victory proves they picked the wrong battleground," boasted GOP state Sen. Dan Patrick, who won the race for lieutenant governor by 19 points, despite an almost concerted effort to alienate Hispanic voters. (He warned, at one point, that child migrants might bring Ebola with them across the border.)
Soon-to-be-governor Abbott had a low bar to clear, and he did so easily. Davis hammered him for comparing law enforcement corruption in heavily Hispanic South Texas to that of a "Third-world country," and for refusing to say whether, as attorney general, he would hypothetically defend a hypothetical Texas law banning interracial marriage. (Abbott's wife, Cecilia, is Mexican-American.) His simple response was to show up in South Texas and campaign seriously. It paid off: Abbott won 44 percent of Latino voters, according to exit polling—including a plurality of Latino men.
And, in a sprawling, heavily Hispanic district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, Republicans unseated Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego. His replacement: Will Hurd, a former CIA agent who will be Texas’ first black Republican congressman since Reconstruction.
One silver lining for Battleground Texas is that no one was even running in some of these races two years ago.
One silver lining for Battleground Texas is that no one was even running in some of these races two years ago. On Wednesday, the organization released a detailed memo from Senior Adviser Jeremy Bird and Executive Director Jenn Brown outlining their accomplishments and vowing to fight on:"We said from the beginning that turning Texas into a battleground will take time and commitment—and we're just getting started." Among their wins: a more potent fundraising operation, a growing voter database, and a nugget from the exit polls: higher percentages of young voters, women voters, and minority voters than in 2010.
But the voters just weren't going for Davis. Even though Battleground boasted of having trained 8,700 new voter-registration volunteers, the overall voter turnout dropped by 300,000 from 2010. Absent any sort of marquee victory to call its own, the fate of Battleground is now outside its control. Texas Democrats won't have another big election for four years—plenty of time to lose interest—and, well, something else might come up in the interim.
When I dropped by the group's Fort Worth headquarters in September, I asked director Brown if she'd consider leaving her post to work for Hillary Clinton's almost certain presidential campaign. She laughed and looked down at the mostly blank paper in front of her.
"The most important thing about Battleground Texas is that it is a Texas-run organization," she said. "It's not about me—I just am lucky to be a part of it, so I actually think no matter who runs it, whether it's me or something else, ultimately, we don't actually run the organization."
So, Battleground took a shellacking in its first test run. Now comes the hard part.
Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds easily won the South Dakota Senate race on Tuesday, taking advantage of a split field that included progressive Democrat Rick Weiland and an iconoclastic ex-GOP senator, Larry Pressler. Weiland had hoped that American Indian voters, boosted by expanded voting access on reservations, would push him over the top, just as they did with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in 2002. That didn't happen.
Shannon County, which includes much of the Pine Ridge Reservation, voted overwhelmingly for Weiland (he took 81 percent of that vote). But turnout dropped from its 2012 level, and the race wasn't close enough for votes on the reservation to matter. There was a silver lining, though: 2,161 residents voted to change the county's name. Shannon County was named for former Dakota Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Shannon, whose principle accomplishment was to help kick American Indians off their land in the 1890s. The new name: Oglala Lakota County, after the tribe that calls the reservation home.
Four years after losing a Senate special election to Scott Brown, Massachusetts Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley is on the brink of defeat in another race that was hers to lose. Both Fox News and ABC have called the governor's race for Republican Charlie Baker, but Coakley has pledged to fight on—at least until Wednesday morning.
The result, if it holds, is a gut-punch for Democrats in the Bay State, where Coakley once led by 29 points. As the race tightened in the campaign's final month, heavyweight surrogates came to Massachusetts to stump for the nominee. But in the end, not even Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton could save Coakley from another electoral defeat.
The easy takeaway here is that Coakley is a spectacularly bad candidate, woefully out of touch with Massachusetts voters. "You could call her the Bill Buckner of politics, if she even knew who the Red Sox were," as Politico Magazine's Ben Schreckinger put it in October. But if you really know who the Red Sox are, you'd know that Buckner's famous gaffe came only after the rest of the team had already blown the game. And that's sort what happened here—the loss stemmed from a confluence of factors, not a singularly flawed candidate.