By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian
There’s no definitive guide on how to be a successful politician, but if some enterprising soul were to sit down and try to write it, the first chapter would be about identifying with voters.
Political careers have been forged and destroyed by whether the candidate seems like “one of us” or “out of touch.” For that reason, just about every politician can point to at least one aspect of his life to prove he represents small-town values and common sense.
Sometimes it can come across as cynical, but in the case of current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, it accurately depicts his worldview.
After all, the people of Marion County know his small town.
Born in 1947 in Farmington, Manchin grew up with both business and political examples to follow. His grandfather, “Papa Joe” Manchin, held many offices in Farmington throughout his life, including mayor, chief of police and justice of the peace.
Both his grandfather and grandmother, “Mama Kay” Manchin, are remembered for their charity as much as their political or business practice. Papa Joe helped folks who’d made mistakes with their legal fines and Mama Kay made sure that even the town drunks were taken care of, and they passed those values on to their children and grandchildren.
Manchin started his political career by serving in the West Virginia House of Delegates and West Virginia State Senate between 1982 and 1996, but things took off in 2000 when he was elected as secretary of state. His tenure was marked by a focus on customer service and “retail government,” meaning he tried to make his office more accessible and oriented toward serving the public, much like his uncle A. James Manchin had done.