CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates is making a big campaign promise ahead of May 10 primary election in the Mountain State.

“We are going to end up in West Virginia mining more coal — in West Virginia — than has ever been mined before, mark it down,” Jim Justice said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“The other thing is, we have got to be diversified off the chart because, even when we were mining coal at our highest level, we were still 50th in everything coming or going.”

Achieving that ambitious goal, he said, will involve exporting West Virginia coal for electricity usage at higher rates and finding ways to make West Virginia’s metallurgical coal more desirable.

At the same time, he said agriculture and tourism opportunities will have to be expanded.

This race is the first political run for the Raleigh County native who is on Forbes Magazine’s billionaires list and owns nearly 100 companies. In 2009, he bought The Greenbrier which was nearing bankruptcy.

At times, he said, bill payments from The Greenbrier and his other companies are late for a variety of reasons. Cash flow is sometimes a problem, Justice admitted.

“For crying out loud, you’re trying to keep people working,” he said when asked about money owed, one of the criticisms that has repeatedly dogged him on the campaign trail. “I’ve got 2,719 people and families depending on me in West Virginia and you’re trying to keep people working, you’re trying to juggle 14,000 balls all at the same time.”

Several of his companies are currently delinquent on personal property and real estate taxes totaling millions of dollars in multiple Southern West Virginia counties. The deadline for payments was April 1.

“Those property taxes will absolutely, in entirety, be paid in the month of April. Every single one of them will be paid,” he pledged.

Citing his own accounting records that could not be immediately independently verified, Justice claimed he and his companies pay an average of $41.6 million each year when sales, severance and property taxes are considered.

He asked, “When did the property taxes never get paid? When has Jim Justice ever taken bankruptcy? When has Jim Justice never come through on an obligation? Maybe a little late to the game or maybe a little late to the dance, but he’s always come to the dance.”

While both Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) and Booth Goodwin, a former U.S. attorney, have participated in Democratic gubernatorial debates this week in Greenbrier County and at West Virginia State University in Kanawha County, Justice has opted out of those events.

Justice said he thought voters got a good look at all three candidates during a forum the state Democratic Party sponsored last Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.

“I’ll just tell it like it is. Booth came off weak and looked like he was lost and Jeff came off polished, in a lot of ways, but with a lot of ideas that lead to taxing and taxing and taxing the people,” Justice said.

“It just seemed like everybody was just kind of picking at me and it almost came off like a dog chasing a car and, if I were the car, and they finally caught up with me and they got their ‘you know what’ run over.”

Early voting ahead of the primary election begins next Wednesday.

The Democrat nominated on May 10 will move on to face current Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06), who is unopposed in the Republican gubernatorial primary, in the November general election.

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