The West Virginia State Capitol during the legislative session is like a small town; everybody knows everybody, a secret in the morning is common knowledge by afternoon, gossip is a form of currency and most slights prompt a response.
The latest dust up started when Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio) tweeted, “Word of advice to @WVGovernor when meeting w @WVGOPSenators: use rocketships, rainbows or unicorns and the conversation is over. Facts only.”
Justice, during a Radio Town Hall on MetroNews Talkline Friday was eager to respond to Ferns. “I hate to say this, but it’s just a fact. I’ve done more in my little finger for West Virginia and West Virginians than Ryan Ferns has done.”
Then in what is becoming familiar fashion, the Governor used a creative metaphor to try to make his point.
“It’s almost like a grizzly bear walking through the woods and then a poodle walking behind him, barking and nipping and all kinds of stuff for nothing,” Justice said. “And basically, at some point in time, if I’m the poodle I’m concerned that the grizzly bear is going to get tired of all the tweeting and the little crap that’s going on and turn around and eat your ass.”
Well, that spread through the Capitol like wildfire. MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny caught up with Ferns later in the day and asked him about the comment. “I don’t think anything I’ve put out on social media is anything short of factual or just directly to the point of concerns that I have. I’ve never felt like I’ve crossed the lines and been disrespectful toward the Governor,” Ferns said.
“To have a Governor make comments like that is embarrassing for our state,” he went on to say. “I almost feel bad for the people to have that representation of a Governor.”
The kerfuffle follows Governor Justice’s remarks the previous week where he referred to lawmakers who are wary of his budget proposal and road plan as “knuckleheads.” Most legislators laughed that off, some took offense and now a few lawmakers are wearing it as a kind of badge of honor.
Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral) has had “Knucklehead” lapel pins made and is giving them out. “If we’re knuckleheads, we’re actually the adults in the room trying to solve the state’s problems,” Howell said.
Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) has come to Justice’s defense. “The Governor has a bold proposal that can bring a lot of jobs to West Virginia. He might get a little folksy at times and call us a knucklehead, but I think he means it in a good, honest way.”
So, what does all this mean? Maybe it’s nothing more than some verbal sparring that is natural to politics. But it is also indicative of a deeper divide between the Governor and the Republican majorities on how to address the state’s fiscal crisis.