CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Is there a Democratic governor in America who expresses more admiration for President Donald Trump than West Virginia’s Jim Justice?
On Wednesday, during a stop in McDowell County for his “Jim’s Promise” tour, Justice regaled an audience with a detailed story of meeting with Trump earlier in the week.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be with the president — the president, not the president of the Senate — over and over and over in the last weeks,” Justice said.
Justice said he pitched Trump an idea about boosting the coal industry, said West Virginia will benefit from Trump’s infrastructure goals, described the president as a family man, relayed an incident in which Trump called the people of West Virginia “pretty” and told a story about a stain on Trump’s shirt.
The billionaire governor has described himself as close to the Trump family, dating back to last fall’s election, and has sometimes compared his outsider style to that of the president.
Trump has been through controversy after controversy, both during the election and in the early months of his presidency. Justice said he believes Trump is a good person.
“Now, let me tell you about him. He’s a good man. He’s a good family man. Now he’s pretty brash because he’s a little different from us and all that kind of stuff,” Justice said Wednesday.
“But he’s a good man. And he loves West Virginia. He really, really, really does. It’s hard to believe.”
Justice, a businessman in the coal, agriculture and hospitality industries, won 49 percent of West Virginia’s vote for governor last fall. A recent report showed Justice with a 51 percent approval rating.
Justice continued to describe a close relationship with Trump in the stories he told during the gathering in Welch, which was meant to promote his highways improvement package.
Trump appeared in West Virginia on Monday, addressing the national Boy Scout Jamboree in Fayette County — a speech with political overtones that became controversial.
Trump used some comments during that speech to push for congressional passage of a health care bill.
Thousands of West Virginians who gained access to insurance under Medicaid expansion are expected to lose it under various incarnations of the proposal.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has expressed reluctance to vote for plans that would do so. “You better get Senator Capito to vote for it,” Trump said in that speech.
Justice said he wants to take advantage of the time with Trump.
“I’m pitching as hard as I can to the president of the United States,” Justice said two days after the Jamboree visit.
“When he called the other day, he said ‘Jim, I’m landed there; I’m going to the Scouts.’ Of course I know all that, and everything. He said ‘Meet me at the plane and ride over there with me where we can talk.'”
Justice said he embraced the opportunity and then told the crowd he presented two ideas to Trump. The governor did not describe the details of the ideas to the crowd in Welch.
“I presented a couple of ideas to him that are gigantic ideas,” the governor said. “I don’t really know if we can get across the finish line for sure, but they’re gigantic ideas.”
One of the ideas, Justice said, would boost the state’s mining industry in a way “that is off the chart.” He said the idea would help West Virginia coal better compete against other energy markets.
The governor said a recovery is already under way in West Virginia, based on strengthening energy markets. But Justice said the state needs for that recovery to continue long-term.
“To do that, I’ve got to have Donald. I’ve got to have him,” Justice said.
“I’ve got to have him initiate actions that will help us in every way possible. I’m not going to tell you exactly the plan, but it is unbelievable what it could do if I can get him to go with it.”
Later in Welch, responding to a question from the audience, Justice said the state will also rely on support from the Trump administration for infrastructure improvements.
“This is another thing from Donald,” Justice said. “As we go forward, he’s going to go forward with an infrastructure program at some point in time if he can get the Russians off of him, you know, or he can get the health care situation some way settled down.
“And if he can get on with what he wants to do, he will come with an infrastructure program that surely we hope will bring additional billions into the state of West Virginia.”
The governor said West Virginia needs federal financial support for significant improvement of the state’s highway system.
“Well, we need Donald. We’ve got to have him,” Justice said. “And I really, truly believe he’ll come to the table with something. And that will help us even more.”
With the possibility of road bond approval by state voters in October in combination with a federal investment in highways, West Virginians could see major improvement, Justice said.
“Then what we want to do is just keep going,” Justice said. “Well, we hope to goodness we’ve got the state crankin’ and we’re building more roads and we’re building more roads and Donald is putting more money in and we’re building more roads, and more jobs are coming, and more jobs are coming, and more jobs are coming.”
Justice said he met Trump at Air Force One in Beckley and quickly noticed a small detail was slightly off.
“Bless his heart, he had a great big spot right here on his lapel. I thought ‘Jiminy, did he spill ketchup on him?’ That’s the kind of tricks that I pull off all the time,” Justice said.
“When we got to the car, he said ‘Jim, look at my jacket.’ And he was hacked about it. He said, ‘Can you believe this?’ He said, ‘A reporter leaned up against me and had a red magic marker.’
“And he said, ‘And I’ve got this spot, and I’ve tried every way in the world. I’ve ruined this suit trying to get this thing off.'”
Later on the same drive, Justice said, the president had flattering words for the appearance of West Virginians, the state with the second highest obesity rate in the nation.
“He and myself are sitting in the back with two bucket seats and two Secret Service guys are sitting up front that never said a word. That’s the only people in the vehicle,” Justice said.
“We’re going down the road, and there’s people alongside the road waving and everything. Here’s his exact words: He said ‘I love the people of West Virginia. They’re beautiful people. They’re pretty, aren’t they Jim?’
The governor told the crowd in Welch that he thought, “Well, some of the women are, but I don’t know. You know.”
Justice said he continues to believe the Trump administration will try to help West Virginia. The Associated Press earlier this week reported that most of Trump’s travel is aimed at states he won last fall.
“But he does care. And he does know that you’re hurting. And he does know that he holds and wields a big stick,” Justice said.