Mountain Party candidate urges consideration
U.S. Senate candidate Bob Henry Baber of the Mountain Party says West Virginians shouldn't be afraid to consider voting for third party candidates this year.
The 61-year-old Glenville State College professor was his party's nominee in last year's special gubernatorial election. This year, he's representing the Mountain Party in the race for U.S. Senate.
Baber is the third man in the race also featuring the well-funded campaigns of Republican John Raese and incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Of the $2,000 Baber has spent on his campaign, most went to pay the cost of filing fees.
During a phone interview last week, Baber said his opponents' million-dollar war chests were actually a sign of how weak their parties have become.
"If their messages are so great, why do they pay so much for advertising?" Baber said. "If they had a good message, why can't they just put it out for the people to hear?"
Baber was the first Mountain Party member ever elected to public office, becoming mayor of Richwood in 2004.
He made waves during a public debate in Shepherdstown last month when he said Raese's attacks against Manchin as being anti-coal and an ally of President Barack Obama's environmental policies were "bulls-t."
While he apologized for the profanity, Baber still says the attacks are false.
"Everybody in West Virginia knows that Joe Manchin is too close to coal," he said. "And the reason we know Joe Manchin is too close to coal is - let us never forget - that Joe Manchin rode back to the scene of the Upper Big Branch crime on Don Blankenship's dime."
He has referring to the fact that Manchin accepted an offer from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to fly from Florida to West Virginia on a company plane following the disaster.
While Baber defended Manchin from Raese's attacks, he said the differences between the two major national parties are no longer that great.
"I would lump the Democrats and Republicans together as Republicrats," Baber said. "They put on a pretty good show trying to throw pies at each other."
He said both parties have pandered to their base on matters like the country's staggering debt. Instead, he said people need to realize the country must come together and equally sacrifice and compromise to get the country's finances in order.
Baber acknowledges he's a long shot to win the election. In fact, he predicted Manchin would probably beat Raese by about 20 points on Tuesday.
"I understand people vote for the lesser of two evils," he said. "In this election, Joe Manchin is the lesser of two evils."
He said Raese "is not fit to be a senator."
"He's an obstructionist, petulant and will act like a child who always has to get his way in the Senate," Baber said.
Raese has little affection for Baber either. When he realized he would have to participate in another discussion with Baber with the Charleston Gazette editorial board, Raese walked out.
Raese has described Baber's philosophy as socialist.
Baber, however, said he believes in traditional West Virginia Democratic values.
"Anyone who remembers what a Democrat really is in West Virginia, that's what I am," he said. "I represent what Democrats used to be in West Virginia."
That includes support for universal health care, education, veterans' health care, opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and supporting a repeal of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Baber also does not like the mountaintop removal method of coal mining. But he wanted to make clear he was not "anti-coal."
He said he favors developing a "long-term plan" for a region that may only have 15 years of coal left to extract.
"All I'm saying is, let's start to think about a plan and not throw people out on the street, but give them some long-term jobs," Baber said.
He said leaders need to put a greater focus on reclaiming old mine lands and finding a way to diversify the state's energy economy. He said that could include putting solar panel facilities on some mountaintop removal sites.
"I know it's a little out of the box and dreamy, but I will say this: Who is dreaming for southern West Virginia? Who dreamed for them 50 years ago?" Baber said.
"If someone had dreamed for them 50 years ago, southern West Virginia wouldn't be among the poorest counties in the state," he said.
Baber is an award-winning Appalachian poet as well as a Kellogg National Leadership Fellow.
At Glenville, he manages the West Virginia Veterans' Legacy Project. The project just released a book profiling state veterans, titled "Heroes Among Us."
He said the title is meant to evoke the true nature of West Virginians.
"West Virginians are such a humble people that our heroes tend to remain hidden amongst us," he said. "To me, that's one of the most amazing things about West Virginia - I just love that about West Virginians - we are so sweet, unpretentious and kind."
Baber compared himself and his candidacy to that of Jimmy Stewart's character in Frank Capra's 1939 film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
"If you want to vote for someone who understands you, is like you, cares about you and doesn't owe anyone anything, vote for me," Baber said. "Send Mr. Smith to Washington."