CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) says he’s not afraid to run against Jim Justice, the owner of The Greenbrier Resort who was expected to announce his plans to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016 on Monday.
“The bad news (is) I guess I’ll now be running against a billionaire. I guess the good news is I’m still the only real Democrat in the race,” said Kessler who was a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline” prior to the announcement from Justice, 64.
In March, Kessler filed pre-candidacy papers to launch his campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“While I welcome Jim to the Democrat congregation, I’m just not prepared after a three-week political conversion to coronate him as our minister, certainly not our party leader,” Kessler said.
Forbes estimated Justice’s net worth, as of earlier this month, was $1.69 billion. He made his fortune in coal, timber and farming. Justice purchased The Greenbrier in 2009, saving the historic site from bankruptcy.
Justice has never before run for a statewide political office.
Kessler previously ran for governor in 2011 during a special election to replace U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) when he left the Governor’s Office to fill the late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) seat in the U.S. Senate.
An attorney from Glen Dale, Kessler was appointed to the state Senate to fill a vacancy in 1997. He was first elected to the Senate in 1998 and reelected for every term since then.
During his time at the State Capitol, he’s served as Senate President, Acting Senate President and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair.
In the past, Justice has been a registered Republican. He is now a registered Democrat, but Kessler questioned his political credentials.
“While I recognize that we have taken a bath over the last couple of election cycles, trying to be ‘Republican-lite,’ I hope we haven’t resorted to the fact that the only way we think we can win is to go out and get one,” Kessler said of Democrats.
“The fact that you’ve got a bunch of money in the bank doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the party leader.”
Kessler said he represents “the average Joe on the street.”
“I’ve been in the trenches, sticking up for Democrat values and ideals for the last three decades, not three weeks. I look forward to pointing out the contrasts between the two of us and what’s the best path for the Democrat Party,” he said.
Primary Election Day in West Virginia is May 10, 2016.