Coal executive Don Blankenship has a track record of upsetting voters by flexing his financial muscle to shape West Virginia’s political landscape. This time, he didn’t spend a dime. All he did was pose in European vacation photos with the state’s top judge, and that was enough to doom the re-election bid of the chief justice. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard’s once-promising bid for a new term ended in defeat in Tuesday primaries after photos emerged in January of the two men vacationing together on the French Riviera and in nearby Monaco in 2006, while the coal company had cases pending before the court, reports the Associated Press.
The photos plunged Maynard into a conflict-of-interest scandal that left him in third place in a Democratic primary race for two seats on the five-member Supreme Court. “There is a very wide perception that Justice Maynard simply acted unethically,” said Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University. Analysts said that Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy Co., has a track record of arousing opposition among a heavily Democratic electorate whenever he wields his personal fortune for campaign financing. They believe his involvement in the vacation scandal likely compounded Maynard’s plight.