Candidates speak at Labor Day celebration
RACINE - For those tired of talk about this November's presidential election, Monday's United Mine Workers of America Labor Day Celebration would have made a perfect getaway.
The annual celebration, held at John Slack Memorial Park, is always a prime spot to rub elbows with top Democratic politicians.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, state Treasurer John Perdue, state Auditor Glen Gainer, state Supreme Court candidate Tish Chafin and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall all took the stage Monday to thank union members for their hard work and ask for their support this fall.
None of them mentioned President Barack Obama's re-election campaign against Republican contender Mitt Romney.
Only one speaker, state delegate Larry Barker, D-Boone, mentioned the president at all. And it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
"I can't control the price of coal," Barker told the crowd. "I can't control the president and I can't control the Congress. I wish I could."
Barker is in the middle of a difficult re-election campaign against Republican Josh Nelson, a coal miner who has accused the incumbent of failing to protect coal jobs. Nelson and his supporters also attended Monday's event.
State Democrats are trying to distance themselves from the president, who is immensely unpopular in the coalfields. A poll last week found Romney had a 14-point lead over Obama in this state.
Tomblin, Rahall and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin will not attend this week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. And while Rahall has endorsed Obama, Tomblin and Manchin are remaining mum on their presidential picks.
Several speakers did allude to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's "war on coal." Tomblin told attendees he would continue to fight the EPA's tight restrictions on surface mining.
"I will not stand by and let them threaten our jobs. I'll fight to the very end," he said.
Rahall, the last speaker to take the stage Monday, told the dwindling crowd there was also a "war on our coal miners."
He urged voters to beware of Republican candidates.
"They'll pretend they're Friends of Coal this year. Don't buy that malarkey. They've got a hidden agenda, and they'll turn their backs on the coal miners in a heartbeat," he said.
Retired coal miner Harold Cremeans, 60, of Bloomingrose, said he doesn't plan to vote for Romney or Obama this November.
Cremeans said he doesn't agree with anything the Republicans have ever done.
"I don't think I'd have a retirement if it was left up to the GOP," he said.
As for Obama, Cremeans' problem with the president has nothing to do with coal. Instead, he takes issue with the president's support of same-sex marriage.
"I'd like to vote, but I need somebody to vote for," he said.
John Harden, 63, of Logan, said he's not a big supporter of the president but likes Romney even less.
"We're between a rock and a hard place. All we can do is pray," he said.
"I'll vote for him again," Harden said of Obama. "Unless (UMWA president) Cecil Roberts finds a candidate that will support our fight against Patriot Coal."
While speakers seemingly ignored the upcoming presidential election, almost everyone weighed in on the UMWA's fight against Patriot.
The coal company, owned by Peabody Energy, is in the process of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Union leaders worry Patriot retirees will lose their pensions and health benefits if the company goes under.
Roberts told miners the company should be required to "keep their promise."
State Auditor Glen Gainer echoed those statements
"It's not too much to tell the fat cats on Wall Street and the coal operators that you promised pensions and health care and we've come to collect," he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin was scheduled to appear at Monday's event but did not attend because of a death in the family.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or email@example.com.