Governor-elect Jim Justice has set high expectations, and with that comes serious demands on his newly-appointed staff to help fulfill some of the towering promises he made during the campaign.
The buck stops at the Governor’s desk, but there will be particular pressure on incoming Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, new Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.
Remember that during the campaign Justice promised to take West Virginia on a “rocket-ship ride, as far as job creation, like you can’t believe.” When I talked with Thrasher about his new position he did not use the same kind of hyperbole, but he does buy in to Justice’s approach.
“West Virginians don’t think big enough,” he told me. “We’ve got to find a way to stimulate the economy and you can’t do it with good thoughts; you have to do it with some type of action.”
But he also cautioned against thinking West Virginia is in for a series of economic homeruns. “I think (West Virginia) is going to be successful through a number of singles; homegrown businesses, statewide business, new startups,” he said.
Thrasher knows about that. He and his father, Henry, started a civil engineering firm in Clarksburg. That company has grown to over 400 employees. Thrasher is also the managing partner of the White Oaks Business Park in Bridgeport.
Justice’s choice for Tourism Commissioner also knows of the new Governor’s lofty expectations. “I’ve heard about his vision, heard about his ideas and I’ll tell you this; he thinks bigger than anybody in this state has ever thought about tourism,” Chelsea Ruby told me.
Justice famously repeated during the campaign that West Virginia could have a giant theme park like Dollywood in Tennessee. That’s a moon shot, but Ruby is all in. “We’ve got a Governor who is going to get involved personally and make it (tourism) a top priority. I think you’re going to see big results.”
The Justice team just announced that Dave Hardy will take over for Bob Kiss as Revenue Secretary. Hardy, who will leave his seat on the Kanawha County Commission, is a practicing lawyer and CPA.
In a prepared statement Justice said, “Dave Hardy has the experience to help my administration conquer the budget crisis. Our state finances are a mess and require a watchful eye over every penny. We will not achieve greatness until we get out of the financial hole.”
Remember that the projected hole in next year’s budget is expected to be about $400 million dollars.
Justice has a reputation as a hard-driving boss who sees the impossible as just another obstacle that he can overcome. He’s bringing that mindset to the Governor’s office and gathering people for his administration with the same can-do approach.
His focus is on improving the state’s economy, job creation and fixing the budget, meaning Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy can expect the challenge of a lifetime in their new positions.