CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gayle Manchin was sworn in Thursday as the federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a week after the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination.
Manchin, the former first lady of West Virginia and wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is the first West Virginian to serve as the commission’s federal co-chairman in the body’s 56-year history.
“Even though it’s not different from the work I’ve always done, there’s just this sense of it can be much bigger and much better,” she told reporters following a ceremony at Charleston’s Clay Center. “Now, it’s not just about West Virginia, but it’s about all these states that share the same issues and challenges in the rural part of their state.”
The Appalachian Regional Commission is a federal agency focused on economic and regional development in 420 counties in 13 states from Mississippi to New York; all 55 West Virginia counties are part of the commission’s scope. The president is responsible for nominating a federal co-chairman, which needs Senate approval. Senators confirmed Manchin unanimously by voice vote.
The 13 governors also select a co-chairman; Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam currently serves the position.
“We’re not urban America, we’re not the inner city, but we’re 20% of this country,” Manchin said during a speech. “We need to be reckoned with, we need to have the resources, and we need to level the playing field.”
President Joe Biden cited Manchin’s interest in education as a leading factor in his decision. She was an educator with Marion County Schools and a faculty member of Fairmont State University, and served eight years on the West Virginia Board of Education. Gayle Manchin also served as the state’s Education and the Arts secretary from January 2017 to March 2018.
Manchin thanked the president for the nomination and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, for endorsing her for the position. Manchin and Weingarten worked together on the Reconnecting McDowell project, an initiative focused on building economic opportunities and educational improvements through public-private partnerships.
Manchin’s tenure follows the leadership of Tim Thomas, who became federal co-chairman in April 2018. Thomas, who spoke during Thursday’s ceremony, said he was enthusiastic when he learned about his successor.
“She has done important work in education. She knows that our young people are our greater resource and that those who will be entering the workforce in a few years must be properly prepared,” said Thomas, a Kentuckian.
“Beyond that, Gayle Manchin has a passion for the people of Appalachia, their well-being and their prosperity. I know she wants to see them be healthier, better educated on the whole, and have more money in their pockets and more opportunities for success without having to leave home. When you combine the expertise she brings with the passion she has, things get done.”
Manchin mentioned in her speech multiple issues she wants to address, including business development, the drug crisis, broadband access and infrastructure. Her immediate plans are to speak to commission staff as well as state leaders about the issues facing Appalachian communities in each state.
“I would love to find a project or something that we can all grab hold on and work on together,” she said afterward. “If we could really tackle one of these issues as 13 states — not as a county or one state, but all 13 — I think we can make a difference.”
Multiple local, state and federal lawmakers attended Thursday’s ceremony. Former state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman led Manchin in the oath of office.