CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nick Casey, who was fired Monday as chief of staff by Gov. Jim Justice, says he had earlier been asked to continue working and had planned to continue to do so.
Casey was a former state Democratic Party chairman and ran for Congress as a Democrat. Justice announced earlier this month that he would switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
An announcement from the Justice administration on Monday afternoon said Casey was fired over the governor’s disappointment with outcomes during the legislative session.
The Justice administration has set a 10 a.m. Wednesday news conference, presumably to announce a new chief of staff.
Casey, in a short email sent out Monday night, said he was fired for having too many Democratic Party connections. He said the governor called and fired him before noon Monday while Casey was in New York celebrating his 42nd wedding anniversary.
In a longer, followup email sent Monday morning, Casey elaborated on what he’d thought was a more solid situation with the administration. Governor Justice made several public statements over the past few weeks that party affiliation doesn’t matter to him.
Casey, a 63-year-old lawyer and accountant, responded to questions posed by MetroNews:
McElhinny: Were you considering staying?
Casey: He asked me to stay and I kept working until he fired me. I did not expect to be fired. I received encouragement from state leaders in education, business, labor and R’s and Ds across the board to stay because they saw me doing a good job for the state and I was committed to staying.
McElhinny: Do you think the party connections could have been resolved — or were they too high a hurdle, in terms of perception?
Casey: There were no issues internally during the transition or during the 7 months since until he changed. Many cabinet members are R’s and many are D’s and never one issue. Gov made it an issue after he changed parties.
McElhinny: The governor’s statement mentions disappointments with the legislative process. Did you see it the same way? Did he mention the legislative process during his phone call with you?
Casey: Gov developed his own relationships with the legislators. Some good, some bad, some issue-driven, some personality-driven. Staff supported his positions and style at all times, even if staff would have preferred to do it differently. Gov ran his legislative agenda. He gets all the credit for whatever happened and didn’t happen.
McElhinny: The governor at one point told Hoppy he’d told you of his decision to switch parties a month ago. Would you say that’s accurate?
Casey: He talked about it both during and after the session.
McElhinny: Was there any gray area to any sort of discussion like that, or was it clear what the governor was planning to do?
Casey: He talked about it but never took action until that Trump for America rally.
McElhinny: Do you get why the governor switched parties? Because I still don’t.
Casey: I don’t understand. We were told to operate so that party affiliation did not matter and that is how we operated, and I got fired because he switched parties
McElhinny: Why did you decide to be chief of staff in the first place?
Casey: WV has been good to me and my family since my wife and my ancestors got here. I felt I had the training and experiences and a few skills where I could make the state better in these hard times. Gov had a big non partisan outsider vision that I thought was good for my kids and everybody’s kids and the state’s future. I was sure I could assist, and I did.
McElhinny: And can you explain the key elements of the job? Sometimes questions that address what would seem to be basics are good questions. And I’m not sure if the public really understands the importance of this job.
Casey: Supervise and coordinate all agencies. This is key; the cabinet secretaries operate the day-to-day. Gov office keeps them coordinated and heading to common goals
Coordinate boards, budgets and functions with other state wide officials. E.g. Oasis accounting system is tri-effort with Gov, treasurer and auditor.
Recruit and approve hiring of all senior staff
Identify and vet hundreds of board appointments from banking to racing to barbers to WVU to Bluefield State
Develop and run a balanced budget (billions)
Keep PEIA solvent
Chair School Building Fund (100’s of millions)
Chair Housing Development Fund (billions)
Chair consolidated retirement fund (10’s of billions)
Keep Lottery, ABC revenue, DNR and other special revenue viable and improve it
Run the bond issues
Handle states of emergency
Roll heads as necessary e.g. Single Audit may be headed that way
Help the Gov legislative agenda — both the positive stuff and damage control
Lots more since everything requires Gov’s approval and as Chief I had his authority to approve
Basically, run the state
McElhinny: Are you kind of relieved?
Casey: No, I had a job to do, I was doing it with a great team of cabinet members and this distraction is not good for WV. We need road Garvee bonds and passage of general obligation road bonds and then parkway bonds and we need budget discipline and I was working hard to make that all happen with full approval of Gov. I have never been fired for doing what I was engaged to do when I was getting it done. I was fired for my party affiliation by a man who represented to me when I took the job that competency counted and party was not to ever be a criteria.