CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has officially announced that Sen. Mike Hall will officially be named chief of staff.
The appointment of Hall, a longtime Republican lawmaker from Putnam County, follows the governor’s party switch from Democrat to Republican, and this week’s firing of previous chief of staff Nick Casey, who has held prominent positions in state Democratic Party politics.
A statement from the governor said Hall will officially take over the position this coming Monday, which will be during a legislative interim session.
“Mike Hall has a reputation for being able to work with everybody,” Justice stated. “He has an analytical mind and knows the ins and outs of the budget and budget process. That, and the fact that there is not a more respected man in the Legislature than Mike Hall really helped me make my decision.”
Hall, in his own statement, expressed excitement about a team the governor is putting together to lead the state forward.
“I am honored that Governor Justice has placed his trust in me, and I am eager to begin serving the people of West Virginia in this new role,” Hall stated.
“While it was an incredibly difficult decision for me to leave the Senate, I could not imagine a greater opportunity to use all I have learned during my time in the Legislature than this. I am confident the Governor is putting together the pieces he needs for a strong team that will continue to advance his vision and hopes for West Virginia.”
The governor initially announced a 10 a.m. Wednesday press conference to discuss the chief of staff position but then canceled it.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday morning and then again in a news release on Tuesday afternoon, Senate President Mitch Carmichael praised the choice of Hall.
“I can truly think of no man who has more of a heart of a public servant than Senator Mike Hall,” Carmichael stated. “Governor Justice’s choice sends a clear message to those who may have had doubts about the sincerity of his desire to return to the Republican Party.
“Senator Hall is a strong social conservative, and has a proven record of being a defender of life and freedom, which are two values West Virginians hold dear. Throughout his time as our Senate Finance Chairman, he has been tremendous protector of the taxpayers’ dollars, and he will bring a fiscally conservative eye to the budget process. His knowledge of our state’s finances will make him priceless to the Legislature as we prepare to deal with another difficult budget year. I am confident he will serve our Governor well as he continues to work toward moving West Virginia forward.”
Among the possibilities to assume Hall’s Senate seat, John Musgrave is among the most well-known and experienced. Musgrave was state Lottery director for 19 years, retiring in 2015.
Musgrave lives in Point Pleasant. Senate District 4 covers Mason, Jackson and parts of Putnam and Roane counties. The seat is up for election in 2018.
Delegates Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, and Jim Butler, R-Mason, each told the Charleston Gazette-Mail they would be interested in the Senate seat.
Hall, 68, is generally recognized as a moderate, knowledgeable Republican with a calm demeanor. He was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and served as minority leader before Republicans took the chamber’s majority in 2014. Hall served in the West Virginia State House of Delegates from 1994 to 2004.
During the most recent legislative session Hall expressed serious reservations, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately, about a revenue plan backed by the governor and many of his Republican colleagues in the Senate that would have raised sales taxes six months before lowering personal income taxes.
Fiscal models showed that proposal opening up bigger budget gaps in coming years, and Hall was among those urging caution.
Variations of the proposals were voted down repeatedly by House Republicans and House Democrats, and Senate Democrats also voted against it.
When Justice announced his party switch almost two weeks ago, he cited the defeat of the revenue proposal — which in the short term would have raised additional revenue for many of his preferred policy initiatives — as the reason he was parting ways with the Democratic Party.
“And I went right straight to the Democratic caucus and begged ’em. I said, ‘Listen, do you realize you are going to walk away from your very constituents, and you’re going to hurt people. There’s going to be real carnage. And at the end of the day, what really happened for good for for bad is the Democrats left me. I didn’t have any intention whatsoever. I’ve been a shining knight trying to carry the flag in every way. But if I’m going to get something done for this state and our people, I’ve got to make this move,” Justice said in a news conference.
Justice made a similar statement about firing Casey on Monday, alluding to disappointments over the legislative session.
“Nick Casey is a friend and a good man,” Justice stated in an emailed announcement. “There’s no question we all tried very hard during the legislative session to get things done, I wish we could have done better. I’ve given this a lot of thought and going forward I just didn’t see any pathway where it would work out.
“I appreciate the work Nick Casey has done and wish him well in the future.”
Appearing Tuesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline” with guest host Danny Jones, House Minority Leader Tim Miley said he can understand why the governor would want to put his preferred team in place, but he objected to how Casey was let go.
“I completely understand why the executive has the right to have those people around him or her that they choose,” said Miley, D-Harrison.
“But what’s not easy to understand or accept is when one week you say you hire people based on their competency and not at all based on their political party, and the very next week you say one thing but do another. Clearly, Nick was fired because he was a Democrat — not because of his competency or what was or wasn’t accomplished during the legislative session.”
Miley said the governor will wind up missing Casey’s expertise.
“I think it’s a big loss for the governor’s administration. Some may think otherwise. But I think it was pretty crappy to do it that way,” Miley said.
Miley went on to say about Casey, “I think he was playing a significant part in running the state because I don’t think the governor was showing up at the Capitol every day, not that you can’t do work remotely. But Nick had a significant role in it.”
The House minority leader said he thinks the governor’s recent actions have contributed to decreasing his own credibility.
“I can assure you, there will be no more biting our tongues or supporting policies from the Democratic side that we don’t truly believe in, so I hope he can pass whatever his agenda is with 51 Republican votes because if he thinks he’s going to pass tax increases with being a Republican and all of a sudden (House Majority Leader) Tim Armstead is going to change his political philosophy, I think he’s going to be rudely awakened when the regular session rolls around,” Miley said.
He went on to say some Democrats have expressed relief at the governor’s party switch.
“Nobody is bitter. Quite frankly many people are relieved,” Miley said. “Many were biting their tongues. Many were supporting his agenda items begrudgingly because he was a Democratic governor and you don’t want to embarrass a member of your party. They feel like a burden can be lifted from them because now they can be themselves.”
Asked right after his party switch about the possibility of working with a newly-restructured top staff, Justice stated his belief that the administration could continue to function smoothly:
“The train always seems to go on. Do we really believe that by losing a few key members, or really the engineer, me — the train always goes on. And what we’ve got to do is, sometimes it becomes difficult,” Justice said.
“I’m telling you, this train is going to move on and it’s going to go north.”