CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former congressman and secretary of state Ken Hechler has entered the race for U.S. Senate, and he's running on one issue -- ending the practice of mountaintop removal.
The 95-year-old faxed candidacy paperwork to the Secretary of State's office on Wednesday for the special primary to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
"I'm not running to get votes for myself," Hechler said. "I'm running to give people an opportunity to cast their votes against mountaintop removal ... This is the only way I can get [the issue] on the ballot."
Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin is also seeking the seat vacated by the death of Robert C. Byrd and announced his run Tuesday.
Former Republican state Delegate Sheirl Fletcher, who became a Democrat in 2003, also entered the race Wednesday. The Monongalia County resident challenged U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2008.
Hechler, who is three years older than Byrd was when he died in June, acknowledged he likely couldn't win the race.
But "I will not act as though I do not believe I will win," said Hechler, who was in upstate New York on Wednesday to lecture at the Chautauqua Institution.
Mountaintop removal will be the sole focus of his campaign, said Hechler. As a congressman, he unsuccessfully tried to ban surface mining. He said he wouldn't campaign against Manchin, a much more conservative Democrat.
"I'm just talking about one issue, which is mountaintop removal," he said.
Last June, Hechler was among a group of demonstrators, including actress Daryl Hannah, who were arrested at a Raleigh County mountaintop removal protest outside a Massey Energy preparation plant near Marsh Fork Elementary School.
He is not the only person who wants to use the special election to bring attention to mountaintop removal.
Howard Swint, a commercial property broker in Charleston and frequent contributor of op-ed columns in the Gazette, said Hechler pre-empted Swint's own plans to file as a Democratic candidate on Friday.