For the second month in a row U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins’ field representative Jordan Maynor’s mobile office visit to Lewisburg on Wednesday was over-run by an irate crowd of local constituents, some coming from Monroe and Summers counties, who had much to say about the way they are being treated by their representatives in Washington.
Compared to the January meeting held at Lewisburg’s city hall, the mood was darker, angrier, louder.
At the beginning of the meeting, Maynor stated the format for his visit was to hear individuals’ specific issues to relay to Jenkins, which Maynor would entertain on a one-on-one basis. He said he would only accept written submissions. “This is not a town hall meeting,” he said. “If a town hall meeting is requested, put it in writing and Congressman Jenkins will announce a date for it.” He refused to hear further complaints from the gathering of close to 100 people, unless they were submitted in writing.
At that, an angry meltdown erupted, and Maynor was forced to sit down and listen in pretty much stony silence for two hours.
Hand-written signs reading AGREE on one side and DISAGREE on the other popped up over the heads of the crowd as a silent echo affirming a speaker’s point as story after story was aired.
“We’re here to educate you about our needs,” several in the gathering shouted at once. “We demand a face to face meeting with Jenkins.”
“He’s making a big group willing to work against him the next time he runs for office,” said a 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman. “We’re informed voters. Jenkins needs to do a better job.”
The proposed repeal on Affordable Care Act (ACA), pipeline methane leaks, the bill dismantling stream protections, resurgence of coal mining policies, lack of industry diversity in the state and how the protections for West Virginians are being leached away by the “for-profit” extraction industries that have a strangle hold on the state were all areas of much dispute and consternation. It would seem, said one disgruntled speaker, that “West Virginia is a state to be disposed of.”
“Mining is a way of life,” said another. “I’ve heard that statement all my life, but have you seen the coalfields? The coalfields don’t look like a way of life. And there’s nothing nurturing about the gas and oil industries either. A true way of life is something to be preserved and passed on to nurture the next generation.”
“Coal is in decline and has been for years. It has nothing to do with Obama. It’s an economic thing. But by continuing to promote coal production allows coal costs to be continually externalized” onto the people, the land and the water, said another frustrated speaker. “This is shameful. Thinking coal is returning is like thinking the buggy whip business is coming back!”
A man who ran a coal company said he’d been a coal miner most of his life, but no longer.
His father died a horrible death from black lung disease, he said, and even two days before he died, the insurance company was still denying that black lung was what was killing him. The system is set up so “you cannot win a black lung case.”
“In 1950, he went on, “there were 150,000 miners working. By 2000, the figure had dropped to 20,000, due primarily to the longwall and continuous mining methods. West Virginia should have diversified years ago,” he said.
“Oligarchy rules in West Virginia,” said another, who recalled how the coal industry “batted down any and all attempts at diversity” just so they could continue to maintain their exclusive hold on the powers of the state.
A young woman brought up another point: “There are no jobs for youth in West Virginia. The only people known to live here are the elderly, the druggies and the die-hards. These are the die-hards – the ones here in this room. I’m a young die-hard and I want to remain here, but work is hard to find.”
The “for-profit” health system is also not interested in us, said another speaker. “The ACA should be expanded and fixed where needed. Trump said in his campaign speeches that his health care plan will be better than ACA, available to all and cost less. Is Jenkins willing to push for that?”
House Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s proposals for a new health care system didn’t impress one speaker, who said the three components of the system included a plan for health savings accounts, high risk pools and insurance access from across state lines – none of which actually gave better cost protections to West Virginians nor guaranteed health care options.
It comes down to a matter of priorities, said one woman, profits or health care services for real West Virginians.
“We’re not a fringe group,” a woman exclaimed. “We care about the state and its policies, but we’re also scared and angry. We need more health care, not less. The single payer system is viewed the world over as the best way to go for health care – except in the U.S.”
Another woman spoke to the dangers of gas pipelines proposed for Greenbrier County. Having visited Durbin County, PA, famous for its gas wells and methane leaks, she said, the methane fumes are everywhere. She was there for two days and was sick for two weeks. “They all leak!” she said.
An elderly, white haired woman rose to her feet and put all the issues at the meeting very simply to Jenkins field representative, “We’re just people. We just want to be heard and respected.”