North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, but Virginia and West Virginia? One of the connective elements between Virginia and West Virginia is the coal industry. VoxFairfax previously reported upon the coal interests of WV’s governor Jim Justice and his family’s ties to that industry in VA (Oligarchy is as Oligarchy Does, 05/01/2019). The story highlighted the fact that Justice and his corporate coal empire was the object of a federal lawsuit by the Department of Justice in the Eastern District, seeking to force payment of $4 million in fines and penalties for violations of mine safety laws.
As a classic oligarch, Justice has appealed the federal court action, claiming that his family’s coal mining operations were mostly in WV, not VA. However, subsequently, the Virginia Department of Taxation reported a delinquency of $1.6 million and the VA Employment Commission another $392,000 owed to it. Lawyers for Justice (no, not a grassroots organization) attacked and denounced the DOJ collection action, asserting that it
harms the mining companies, risks the jobs of hundreds of workers and may have been inspired by ‘political adversaries’ of the Justice family.
That’s a curious response since the violations at stake cited the risks of injury and death to miners. But, then, oligarchs are not expected to be honest and frank.
Now another WV company, Blackjewell, on July 1 filed for bankruptcy with no notice, leaving some 484 Virginia miners working at ten facilities without jobs. Worse, the company had issued paychecks for the week of June 28 that bounced, causing the miners’ banks to levy fees on their accounts. Local media have reported 47 miners have filed for bankruptcy as neighbors have contributed funds to pay water and electric bills. Not to be outdone by Governor Justice, the Wall Street Journal applauded an announcement by Blackjewell that, in its bankruptcy filings, sought a $3 million bridge loan to pay the miners. WSJ might have held its cheers of corporate diligence one day to learn that the bridge collapsed.
What’s going on? Does WV have a vendetta against VA?
Well, once upon a time, there was only one geographic entity known as Virginia. In fact, the western part of the colony attempted separation by petition to the Continental Congress in 1776 to become Westsylvania and the nation’s 14th colony. Both its topography and mountainous nature make the region inhospitable to slave agriculture and its demography benefitted from Germans, Scots, and other settlers from northern states.
Over time the two regions developed distinctly difference economies and outlooks. Following Lincoln’s election in 1860 and, then, in April 1861 his call to send federal troops to quell the rebellious secession, Virginia voted to secede to join the Confederacy. Political currents in what would become West Virginia criticized eastern Virginia’s dominance of the state government and the attempt to force secession in behalf of the slave economy. On October 24, 1861, West Virginia was born.
The new state’s first governor, Arthur Boreman, said Virginia’s failure to invest in WV and its dominance of the political life of the state was an ”insult and injustice” fatally sealed by its doctrine of secession. WV entered the union as a non-slave state. Having found no evidence of interstate friction that would support a vendetta or revenge, VoxFairfax concludes that the present financial and monetary battle between the two is wholly a product of oligarchy.
At a minimum, it is hoped that Virginia has learned some lessons from entertaining WV coal companies.