Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 22, 2012

7,500 swell coal rally crowd

Matt Romney speaks in Grundy, Va.

GRUNDY, Va. — Thousands of coal miners, along with their families and friends heard the mountain top message, and agreed to “take their fight to the ballot box” on Nov. 6, during the Rally in Support of Coal Jobs Sunday at Poplar Gap Park near Grundy, Va. Matt Romney, Susan Allen and her son, Forrest Allen, and several more spoke before Charlie Daniels rocked the mountain.

“He ended his show with a performance of ‘The Devil Came Down to Georgia,’ and the crowd went wild,” State Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said after the event. When he learned that a Buchanan County, Va., dispatcher had joked that “The Devil came down to Grundy,” Morefield finished the thought: “The Devil came down to Grundy, looking for some coal to steal,” Morefield said.

Regional pro-coal groups and a bipartisan group of state legislators managed to put the event together in just two weeks. “When we had the conference call about this event, we asked Erik Robinson if he could get Charlie Daniels for us in two weeks,” State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, said. “Erik has made contacts by putting on shows for the Second Chance Learning Center. He was able to work it out.”

Most of the rally was already in place when Matt Romney, the second son of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, agreed to serve as keynote speaker at the rally. He said that his brothers and his mother are all out working for his dad.

“I know my dad,” Matt Romney said to a crowd of 7,500 people gathered for the rally. Consol estimated the number attending the rally by counting the cars entering the Poplar Gap Park concert venue. “He is someone who cares about this great nation.” He said his father had a singular reason for seeking the presidency. “It was his time to give back,” he said.

“Right now, our country is in dire straights,” Romney said. “Twenty-three million Americans are out of work, and we are at $16 trillion in our national debt. I think it’s not only crippling the country. I think it’s immoral.”

He said there is a great difference between his father’s vision for the country and the vision that President Barack Obama has outlined. “Obama says we need to share the pie better,” Matt Romney said. “My father wants to grow that pie for everyone. He wants North America to be energy independent by 2020. To do that, we can’t ignore coal, oil and natural gas.”

He said his father does care. “What drives him is his love for this great country,” Matt Romney said of his father. “I’ve seen him when he gets focused.” He said his father can turn things around with his vision of smaller government and curbing government spending.

While Matt Romney received a powerful response from the crowd, the man who introduced him — Emory Altizer of Belfast, Va., — received an equally strong response. Altizer, 91, has worked in the area coal mines for 70 years, and as recently as December 2011, he operated a continuous mining machine in the mine where he was working as an outside man.

“We’re at a critical time in our lives,” Altizer said. “We’re at a crossroads in our nation.” He said that he has lived through several administrations in Washington, “but this is the first one who has declared a war on coal. I pray you’ll vote for coal,” he said, but apologized to the audience. “I’m not much of a public speaker,” he said.

Susan Allen, former Virginia first lady and the wife of Republican U.S. Senate Candidate George Allen told the audience how close her husband feels to the people of Southwest Virginia. “You can count on George Allen to work hard for you,” she said. She said that the Allen family knows how important the American dream is to the people of Southwest Virginia. “The future of America relies on what happens here in the Ninth Congressional District,” she said.

State Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Grayson, provided a history lesson about what happened when British troops threatened to run American colonials out of western Virginia during the American Revolution. The Over-Mountain Me, formed a militia that unleashed their wrath on British Army regulars in South Carolina.

“It’s time to pull our friends together,” O’Quinn said. “Take the fight to the ballot box. We have everything to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of.”

Barb Finney of Princeton climbed the steps of a flatbed trailer that was set-up for the media to take a picture of the crowd with her iPhone. “We want to post it on Facebook so people can see how many people are here supporting the coal industry,” her husband, Edward Finney, 43, a coal miner at the MetinVest Mine in Raleigh County, said.

Finney has eight years of working in the mines. “We’re a little slow now,” he said of work at the mine. “We just wanted to get a picture on Facebook to show everyone whose hurting that people are trying to do something.” Barb and Edward Finney came to the event with their children, Madison, 10, and Hunter, 8.

Chris Deel, 33, of Haysi, Va., also brought his family with him to the rally. He runs a shovel for United Coal Co. “We’re down to eight hours a day now,” Deel said. “That’s all the work there is for us now. A lot of guys are cut off now. At least we’re still working.”

Jack Richardson of Consol welcomed the crowd. “Coal is the backbone of the American economy,” Richardson said. “If we move away from coal, where are we going to be as a nation?”

Michelle Jenkins spoke on behalf of U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who did not attend the rally because he was attending the baptism of his 12-year-old daughter, Abby. Robert Litton read a letter supporting the coal miners from Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and Shane Clem represented U.S. Senator Mark Warner,” D-Va.

After reading Warner’s comments about his support for a diverse energy portfolio, Clem’s voice was filled with emotion as he looked out on the audience and said, “as a former miner myself,” he was personally moved by the audience. He was injured in the mines, and accepted the position with Sen. Warner.

The crowd reacted with silence when Morefield said: “I’m here to tell you: Yes we can,” he said and paused. “Yes we can correct our mistakes,” he said, finishing the thought.

“You tell them Will,” a man shouted from deep in the crowd.”

Morefield asked the people to vote for people who support the coal industry, “for the sake of our future and the sake of our children’s future.”

Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, urged the people attending the rally to get their friends together and vote. “I know we can do anything if we try,” he said. “Let’s get together on Nov. 6.”

Puckett observed that he had a tough place to speak because,” I’m the only person standing between you and listening to Charlie Daniels,” he said. “We’ve got a story to tell,” he said, pointing out that coal is important to the region; that everyone here depends on coal and there are people who don’t know what coal does. “Make sure you tell that story,” he said. “Thank you for showing up to this event.”

Barbara Altizer of the Eastern Coal Council, Cathy St. Clair of Consol and Mary Belcher of the Buchanan County Chamber of Commerce worked with a large group of volunteers to make the event come together.

“We were all freezing up here on Saturday, but we couldn’t have asked for a prettier day for this event,” Altizer said.

Roger Riffe, vice chair of the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors said that the county worked over an extended period of tome to make the park what it is now. “I think it’s really appropriate that this rally is being held on a reclaimed surface mine,” Riffe said. “We’re putting this land to good use.”

The popular Southwest Virginia band, Folk Soul Revival opened the show after Sandy Shortridge sang the National Anthem and the Giles-Gentry VFW Post 7360  performed Taps, and gave a 21 volley rifle salute.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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