CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former West Virginia Senate president who lost to Governor Jim Justice in the 2016 Democrat Primary Election sees a need for a change within the party’s leadership following Justice’s return to the Republican Party.
On Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Jeff Kessler said party leaders got “bamboozled” by Justice along with thousands of Democratic voters in the Mountain State.
“They voted for him in a primary because they thought he’d be a Democrat. They didn’t vote for him in the primary because they wanted an independent or they wanted a Republican,” Kessler said of Justice.
“He said he was a Democrat.”
Now again a registered Republican, Justice previously changed his political party affiliation to Democrat before launching his gubernatorial campaign in 2015.
After his nomination in May 2016, the current Democratic party chair, Belinda Biafore, was elected to a four year term as party chair in June 2016, a role she first took over in February 2015 after serving as vice chair since 2004.
Justice backed Biafore’s selection, Kessler said.
“The problem is now that the person who picked the team has now left the team, so maybe it’s time to re-examine who’s going to lead the party,” he said.
“It appeared that the party sort of embraced and I won’t say, if not pulling for Jim, I think they certainly encouraged him to get in the race, then greased his ride, but now he’s left them all red-faced because he’s turned on them.”
When making his party change last week, Justice blamed Democratic lawmakers who are in the minorities in both the state Senate and state House of Delegates for failures in his legislative agenda this year and claimed the Democratic Party “had left him.”
Kessler called that a “lame excuse” and “disingenuous.”
Going forward, Kessler said it’s time for those in the West Virginia Democratic Party to face some hard truths.
“The Democrats have got their clocks cleaned the last three or four election cycles and, frankly, no one seems to know what we even stand for anymore,” Kessler said.
“It’s just we’re going to be this ‘West Virginia Democrat’ which, at the end of the day, is nothing more than Republican-lite.”
Justice won the 2016 Democratic Primary with 51 percent of the vote to Kessler’s 23 percent and 25 percent for Booth Goodwin, a former U.S. attorney.
In November 2016, Justice went on to be elected with 49 percent of the vote. He beat Republican Bill Cole and Charlotte Pritt, the Mountain Party candidate.