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VOL. 42 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 12, 2018

Convicted ex-coal CEO to start US Senate bid with town hall

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LOGAN, W.Va. (AP) — A former coal company CEO who served a one-year prison term on charges related to the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in four decades is kicking off his U.S. Senate campaign with a town hall meeting for voters.

Ex-Massey Energy boss Don Blankenship is scheduled to attend the meeting Thursday night at the Chief Logan Lodge, Hotel and Conference Center in Logan. Blankenship has said he wants to tell voters why he's the best candidate. A news conference is planned afterward.

Blankenship will face U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the GOP primary on May 8. Democrat Joe Manchin is seeking re-election.

Blankenship has said President Donald Trump "needs more than just another vote. He needs input as to how West Virginia can improve its citizens' quality of life."

The 67-year-old was released from a federal prison in California last year. He is currently serving one year of supervised release scheduled to end on May 9 — one day after the primary.

Blankenship received approval last August to have his supervised release transferred to federal officials in Nevada, where he has a home in Las Vegas.

He was sentenced in 2016 for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine in southern West Virginia, where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion. He was acquitted of felonies that could have stretched his sentence to 30 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Blankenship's bid to appeal. He has insisted he's innocent, and that natural gas and not methane gas and excess coal dust caused the explosion. He has blamed Manchin for helping create the public sentiment against him and challenged the senator to a debate.

"I know who I am and what I am," Blankenship said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in May after leaving prison. "And I'm more than 100 percent innocent, and the charges were ridiculous. And all the emotion and all the publicity about it was just incorrect, which has been the case with me for years and years."

Authorities have long dismissed Blankenship's argument. Manchin, who was West Virginia's governor during the time of the mine explosion, has said he hoped Blankenship would "disappear from the public eye" after his prison release.

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