CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two leading figures in the Friends of Coal movement are backing a candidate for governor early in West Virginia, even though the West Virginia Coal Association, the trade organization that founded Friends of Coal, has not yet made an endorsement for 2016.
Don Nehlen, former West Virginia University head football coach, and Bob Pruett, former Marshall University head football coach, were making campaign stops with Democrat Jim Justice, billionaire businessman and owner of The Greenbrier Resort, on Monday.
“He’s done everything. I mean, he is a team builder. Every day, he creates jobs. We need jobs in this country. We need jobs in West Virginia,” Nehlen said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
Justice pointed to his efforts to reopen coal mines in southern West Virginia in his argument for being the biggest backer of coal on the ballot. “There is no person in this race that has coal in their background and coal in their blood anymore than me,” Justice said. ”
But Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06), a Republican gubernatorial candidate, said his coal credibility is solid. He’s already picked up support from several industry leaders.
“I think if you want to look at records in the last legislative session, we flat delivered for coal,” Cole maintained. “We have the industry that’s absolutely made and caused West Virginia to be a state and is beleaguered now. We worked hard.”
On Tuesday, Cole was scheduled to speak to those attending the Wheeling meeting of the West Virginia Coal Forum, an organization representing both labor and management in the coal industry. The 11 a.m. event was planned for Oglebay Resort.
But Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said West Virginia’s future cannot be hung entirely on coal.
“We need to be prepared to move our state in a direction that recognizes that coal, while it will still be a prominent energy source in our country, it will no longer be dominant,” Kessler said on a previous edition of MetroNews” Talkline.
Someone, he said, needs to tell West Virginians the truth.
“What we continue is to try to act like all we have to do is get (President Barack) Obama out of office, abolish the EPA and everything in West Virginia will rise to the heights of glory, that’s not going to happen,” Kessler said.
Kessler and Justice will be on the ballot for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on May 10, 2016.
“I’m running for governor surely not for anything whatsoever for me,” Justice said of his campaign. “I’m running for governor for one thing and that is I want to do great stuff for our people in West Virginia and our people in West Virginia are hurting.”
Nehlen and Pruett are organizing “Coaches for Justice” on The Greenbrier Resort owner’s behalf. “A lot of coaches (have) come to us,” Pruett said. “Once they found out we were doing this, (asking) ‘What can we do to help?'”
The two are regularly part of events for Friends of Coal, an advocacy group based in West Virginia created to improve coal’s image that now includes members from other states.