Robert Murray is History's Greatest Monster

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 9 2012 2:00 PM

Robert Murray is History's Greatest Monster

It seems like only seven weeks ago that Mitt Romney stopped at a coal mine and gave a guns-a-blazin' speech about how he would do whatever it took to defend the industry from Barack Obama's jackbooted EPA. The Century Mine, it turned out, was a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp. Its workers had gone to the rally instead of working -- and they had not been paid -- because Murray backed Mitt Romney and asked that this be so.

Romney lost the election. Here's how Murray reacted.

Robert E. Murray read a prayer to a group of company staff members on the day after the election, lamenting the direction of the country and asking: “Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”
On Wednesday, Murray also laid off 54 people at American Coal, one of his subsidiary companies, and 102 at Utah American Energy, blaming a “war on coal” by the administration of President Barack Obama.”

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Think of Murray's decision-making timeline here. Had Romney won the election, he would have gotten to appoint a new EPA team, sure. He would have also, most likely, had to contend with a Democratic Senate with no particular fear of the coal industry. (I'm excepting Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who's up in 2014 and is probably already appearing on NRSC/AFP/coal money maps.) There was no need for him to sack these people so quickly. There was no guarantee that he'd be dramatically more profitable in, say, March 2013. But he fired them, because he's basically amoral.

I hope there aren't too many Murrays out there. Most of the CEOs who threatened to fire employees if the center-left party won the election have welshed on that promise. It turned out that all their threats and all their spending couldn't win Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Ohio for the Republicans. This is a position that you dread in politics -- total irrelevance, a future in which one of the political parties can blow you off and stiff your interests. Murray's not handling it well.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.