Manchin Opponent 'Sick and Tired' of Him Pretending He Cares About West Virginians

Paula Jean Swearengin attempting to mobilize Bernie wing in WV primary challenge

Sen. Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin / Getty Images
July 23, 2017

A West Virginia woman who is challenging Sen. Joe Manchin (D.) in the state's Democratic primary criticized him for only focusing on the needs of the state's voters when gearing up for re-election.

Paula Jean Swearengin, a self-described "coal miner's daughter," condemned Manchin's recent attempt to combat the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, saying he only cares about issues affecting the state when he needs votes.

"I'm getting sick and tired of seeing him acting like he cares during a reelection," Swearengin told the Washington Free Beacon. "How come he is not taking care of us the rest of the time?"

"He is in office for six years," Swearengin said, "not just during the primary and the general."

Swearengin has been very critical of the West Virginia senator, frequently attacking his close ties with big donors such as pharmaceutical giant Mylan, a company that itself produces opioid-based drugs.

Manchin and a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in mid-July urging the agency to set a lower opioid production quota for next year.

"As the gatekeeper for how many opioids are allowed to be sold legally every year in the United States, we commend DEA on taking initial steps last year to lower production quotas for the first time in a generation," the letter said.

West Virginia has one of the highest rates of deaths from a drug overdose in the United States. An analysis done by the state revealed that over 800 people died from an overdose in West Virginia last year and 86 percent of those deaths involved at least one opioid drug.

"We are seeing an unprecedented rise in the overdose deaths related to opioids," West Virginia state health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta told the Register-Herald.

"We're leading surrounding states by about 30 percent. It's a unique problem in West Virginia, although the rest of the nation is suffering from the same problem," Gupta said.

Swearengin believes Manchin's recent letter to the DEA was a ploy for votes.

"Smoke and mirrors," Swearengin said of the letter. "Look at his daughter's connection and how much he has profited off the poor people's demise here."

Swearengin was referencing Manchin's family ties to Mylan, where his daughter Heather Bresch is the CEO. The company produces a generic version of the Fentanyl patch, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

"We are seeing an alarming rise of overdose deaths for heroin and fentanyl in recent years. It's a significant concern to us," Gupta said.

Mylan is Manchin's second largest campaign donor—the pharmaceutical company has donated nearly $400,000 in campaign contribution to the senator and his political action committee since 2010.

Swearengin also criticized Manchin for his out-of-state donors and a recent comment he made, saying he has "no idea" who his campaign contributors are.

"Most of his donors have come from other states—it's been oil barons, it's been Mylan, it's been crooked money," she said. "He says he doesn't know where his money is and that makes me question who is doing his job for him."

A recent Manchin campaign filing revealed that his campaign has received at least $75,000 from fellow Democrats in the second quarter this year, including from one Democratic senator who has said he wants to put "every coal electricity generating plant in a museum."

Swearengin has no plans to join in with the Democratic establishment, and has made her intention to align herself with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

Swearengin is a candidate endorsed by Brand New Congress, a PAC founded, in part, by Zach Exley, a senior advisor for Sanders's presidential campaign. She said that Sanders's message has "resonated" with West Virginia.

"[Sanders] is a really great person," Swearengin said of Sanders. "I think that is why he has resonated with so many Americans because he acts like an ordinary person."

A challenge from the Sanders wing of the party is something that Manchin asked for earlier this year after he was challenged by one of the Vermont senator's supporters during a conference call.

"What you ought to do is vote me out," Manchin said when challenged by the Sanders supporter. "Vote me out! I'm not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out."

"Sanders is not even a Democrat," Manchin added.

Sanders won every county over Hillary Clinton in West Virginia in the Democratic presidential primary.

Sanders spoke with Swearengin in March after an event he held in West Virginia earlier this year.

"I would like to sit down and maybe talk to you at some point to see if we can work together and do something for West Virginia," Swearengin told Sanders one-on-one after the rally.

Swearengin said that she has been in contact with Sanders's staff and is considering asking him for an endorsement.

"His staff contacted me after that meeting and asked me what they could do," Swearengin said. "I might ask him for an endorsement."

Swearengin attended one of Sanders's West Virginia Health Care rallies in June. Swearengin walked on stage with Sanders and sat behind him during his speech on health care.

Swearengin said that she is already appreciative of the attention that Sanders has focused on the state.

"I think he is already doing everything he can for us. He has come here two time in the past month to rally for health care," Swearengin said.

"I think that is what West Virginia needs," she said.