Facing what many believe is token opposition in his re-election bid, Gov. Joe Manchin told Gazette editors Monday he intends to serve the full four-year term.
Asked if he would appoint himself to the U.S. Senate in the event that ailing Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is unable to complete his term, Manchin said, "I will not appoint myself. I will not do that."
Manchin did not want to linger on questions of if or when he might face the prospect of having to appoint a successor for Byrd, whom he called the patriarch of West Virginia politics.
"Until that day comes, I'm not speculating on that," Manchin said.
While Manchin's re-election seemingly is a foregone conclusion, as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, he could play an important role in determining whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wins the party's nomination for president.
Manchin said Monday he's supportive of a proposal by Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to have a "superdelegate primary" this summer, in hopes of staving off a divisive and nasty fight over the nomination at the convention in August.
"I think it's very intriguing. I think it's something we should consider," said Manchin.
Manchin said he believes a majority of the nearly 800 superdelegates nationally are, like himself, not committed to either candidate.
He said a superdelegate caucus some time after the last primary elections, June 3, could be invaluable in avoiding a fight at the convention that could undermine the nominee's chance of winning in November.
"It's an interesting time. No one's been here before," Manchin said of the Obama/Clinton race. "I think we have two candidates both of whom could be extremely great leaders."
During an hour-long interview at the Gazette offices, Manchin touched on a number of subjects, including:
s The 20 percent drop in his approval rating, since peaking at 81 percent early in 2006.
Manchin said that's an inevitable part of the job, noting, "You come across challenges, and from time to time, you're going to get people upset through these processes."
He added, "I don't look at the political ramifications when I make a decision."
s Health care. Manchin said the federal government currently underwrites health coverage for the elderly (Medicare), the poor (Medicaid), children (CHIP), and even for prison inmates.
"The only segment I've seen left out of the equation is working people, and usually the lower rung of working people," he said.
He said it is indefensible for the country to fail to provide adequate health coverage to all working adults.
Manchin also said he believes there is not enough emphasis on preventive medicine and promoting healthy lifestyles.
He said that's a reason why West Virginia will become one of the first states this fall to provide medical screenings for all kindergarten students, and said he intends to see that those screenings are also provided in the second, fifth and eighth grades.
s Global warming. Manchin said he supports initiatives to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but also is realistic enough to see that there is no immediate energy alternative to replace coal, which produces nearly half of the nation's electricity.
Manchin said he believes the federal government should be assisting in the development of clean coal technologies, through tax credits and other incentives to private industry.
"Right now, it's West Virginia's problem, and they want me to pass on to ratepayers the cost of all the technology that's needed," Manchin said.
He said the key is to develop new technologies through public-private partnerships, and hinted that he could be making an announcement about such a project in West Virginia in the near future.
s Costly renovations at the Governor's Mansion and in the governor's offices at the Capitol, including a current project to renovate the governor's news conference room.
Manchin said he was astonished by the state of disrepair in the mansion, the Capitol and other buildings on campus when he took office, and said he immediately took steps to hire engineers, architects and other building professionals in the General Services Division.
"I was ashamed to take people in parts of the Capitol, and ashamed to take them in the mansion," Manchin said.
He noted that one of the first efforts was the restoration of the Capitol dome, and said that work included replacing deteriorated supports in the dome.
At the time, he said, engineers were concerned that a 60 mph wind could have caused the dome to shift, or even collapse.
As for the renovation of the conference room, Manchin said, "We don't have a meeting room in the Capitol ... that is what I would consider presentable."
Delegate Mel Kessler, D-Raleigh, will face Manchin in the Democratic primary.
To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, use e-mail or call 348-1220.
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