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Govs Look to Manchin -- Who Looks to Washington

July 11, 2010 - Joselyn King

These days most voters hate their state's governor.

Nearly all states are on the brink of financial ruin, and the governors are largely taking the blame. Their approval ratings are low.

So when the National Governor's Association met Saturday night in Boston to choose their new king -- eh...chairman -- they chose West Virginia's own Joe Manchin.

They looked at Joe's state and saw that it is likely the only one that's going to be able to pay its bills this year and still be able to sock money away to do so in 2011.

And Joe's constituents seem to like him -- except for those state employees, teacher and trial attorneys.

Not even California's term-limited "Terminator/Guvenator" Arnold Schwarzenegger can say that. His state is in the worst financial shape, and his approval ratings have dissipated in a puff of potentially legalized marijuana smoke.

Yet another problem for the governors is that their new leader -- Chairman Joe -- may not lead them for long. That's because to be chairman of the National Governors Association, one does have to be a sitting governor.

And as the world knows by now, Manchin has his eye on the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Manchin, though, says he only wants to go there by election -- and he preferably wants one in November if the West Virginia Legislature can change the laws fast enough.

The path to Washington does look pretty positive for the Democrat Manchin right now.

This week both labor (the West Virginia AFL-CIO) and business (the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce) indicated they want Manchin in Washington, and sooner rather than later.

Labor said they want Manchin to appoint himself now, despite the fact "we haven't always agreed with Manchin." Among other things, labor wasn't too supportive of his actions to reform the state's workers compensation laws.

The conservative chamber, meanwhile, strongly support the Democrat Manchin and his efforts to improve the state's business climate. Theirs isn't an unusual stance.

I was sitting at a table with a group of prominent local Republicans last week when one said, "You know, Joe Manchin has done a good job as governor. I think he would make a good senator." The others present quietly agreed.

When there is something negative said about Manchin, it usually comes from someone of his own party. "Joe doesn't act on anything unless it's in his own best interest," a Democratic leader  once commented to me.

Whatever one thinks of Manchin, he has had to take the national stage on a number of difficult occasions during his term as governor. And his professional presence at those times had to dispel whatever negative images the world might have had of those living in West Virginia.

I can only imagine how Illinois voters must have wanted kick lanterns over in political shame  when the world was introduced to their Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- who allegedly tried to sell that state's vacant senate seat to the highest bidder. And on the Celebrity Apprentice this season it was revealed Blagojevich could barely use a cell phone and couldn't type -- much less use a computer or fax machine.

West Virginians could sit back and say, "At least we have Joe Manchin as our governor."

He knows the uses and functions of EBAY -- but he's unlikely to try and sell the state's U.S. Senate seat there.


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