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16 people who shaped the 2016 election: Bo Copley

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By Nov. 9, the votes will have been cast and counted, there will be a winner and a loser, and the country will begin a slow return to normal. Historians will have their say on the outcome, but all of us who have lived through this election will carry away indelible memories of a shocking year in American history: of a handful of ordinary people, swept up in the rush of history; of a series of moments on which the fate of the nation seemed, at least briefly, to turn; and of places on the map that became symbols of a divided nation. As we count down to Election Day, Yahoo News has identified 16 unforgettable people, moments and places.

What did Hillary Clinton mean when she said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”?

To Bo Copley, a 39-year-old unemployed West Virginia coal miner, her remark at a CNN forum in March was a direct threat to his livelihood, family and town. “I was upset,” he told Bianna Golodryga, news and finance anchor for Yahoo News, “[by] the way she said it and the smile that was on her face.” (The video of Clinton’s remarks is here; viewers can decide for themselves about her expression.) “That really hurt,” Copley continued, “because it’s not a nameless thing, not a faceless industry. It sparked a lot of anger throughout this state.”

So when Clinton showed up to campaign in Williamson, W. Va., he let her know how he felt.

“I just want to know how you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you’re gonna be our friend,” he said, sliding a picture of his three children across the table toward her — a moment captured by reporters that catapulted him to local, and later national, fame. In October, when Republican West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito held a hearing on “the devastating effects that EPA’s anti-coal regulations are having on our state,” Copley was a star witness, describing the events leading up to his layoff as a maintenance planner and foreman at a subsidiary of the mining giant Arch Coal.

“With increasing regulations forcing other mines to close, we would see more and more inspectors on our job,” he said. “At one point, we had 12 inspectors on our property. … That would lead to more violations because of their interpretation of laws. More violations lead to higher cost per ton. Higher cost per ton leads to less profits. Less profits lead to job loss.”

It was a report from the trenches of what Republicans have been calling the Obama administration’s “war on coal” since long before the campaign even began. This was a message Donald Trump sought to reinforce at a West Virginia rally by donning a miner’s hardhat and pretending to wield a shovel. That move violated a principle of campaigning dating back to 1988, when Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis was photographed in a tank turret, wearing a helmet that reminded many observers of Snoopy: Never put anything weird on your head.

Bo Copley collects himself while speaking to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Bo Copley collects himself while speaking to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Williamson Health and Wellness Center in Williamson, W.Va. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

To Clinton, her remark was intended just as a recognition of something that was happening already, and would continue — a result not only from environmental concerns, but also competition for coal from cheap natural gas. She apologized to Copley for her “misstatement.”

“What I was saying is that the way things are going now, we will continue to lose jobs,” she said. “That’s what I meant to say, and I think that seems to be supported by the facts.” As the media noted, she was actually making a point about the need to bring jobs back to Appalachia and support laid-off miners.

Copley, for his part, was unconvinced, telling reporters after the confrontation that he “would have liked to have heard more of what her plan is” for coal country. “How long is it going to take to bring other energy sources into this area?” he said to Golodryga. “If it takes two, three, four years, what am I supposed to do?”

Clinton’s plan, all 2,180 mind-numbingly comprehensive words of it, includes provisions for job training, expanded broadband access, combating drug abuse and promoting the rich cultural heritage of Appalachia. Copley says he wasn’t especially political before his brush with fame, but now everyone is interested in his opinion. As he told reporters, he was a Republican and a deeply religious Christian who would never support Clinton anyway because of her stance on abortion and other issues. “Coal,” he says, “is not the only priority.” — By Jerry Adler. Video by Sarah B. Boxer.

Clinton says she misspoke with vow to put coal miners out of business
In a May roundtable with West Virginia voters, Hillary Clinton apologized and said she had worked for years to help workers. >>>

‘The mines will be gone’: Trump claims Clinton would destroy coal industry
“It is the last shot for the miners. That I know,” Donald Trump said in August. “And I’m not like a neutral for the miners. I’m not like, ‘Oh, well he’ll be all right.’ Hillary will be a horror show, and I’m going to be an unbelievable positive. But this is the last shot. The mines will be gone. The mines will be gone if she gets elected.” >>>

Facing backlash, Clinton says coal still has a future
Facing a backlash from Appalachian Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Monday tried to reaffirm her commitment to coal communities one day after declaring on national television she was going to “to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” >>>

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