CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s governor’s mansion is a pretty classy place.
Located adjacent to the state Capitol building, the Colonial Revival building was completed in 1925. Its foyer was inspired by the White House. Among its 30 rooms are a drawing room, ballroom, state dining room, library and sitting room.
Current Gov. Jim Justice, who is unique in many respects, parts ways with his predecessors with regard to the mansion.
He doesn’t live there.
“Most all my time, I’m in Greenbrier County,” Justice said Monday. “I don’t have any problem driving. I don’t have any problem with availability.”
Then, referring to his office in the Capitol building, he said, “If I need to be here 24/7 for 15 straight days and stay right in that office, I’ll be right in that office. I’m not going to let anyone work more than me. No way.”
He makes his home in Lewisburg, where he has lived for years. It’s 112 miles and an hour and 46 minute drive from Lewisburg to Charleston, depending on your driving speed of course.
That’s been scuttlebutt since his term as governor began last January and the governor himself has hinted at the arrangement. For example, during the budget battles this past spring, he would sometimes talk about having to leave his home in Lewisburg in the early morning hours to be at early meetings at the Capitol.
The governor acknowledged his living situation during a news conference at the Capitol on Monday after being asked directly.
It’s not only a practical matter but also a Constitutional one.
The state Constitution always has and continues to address where officers of the executive branch should live: “They shall reside at the seat of government during their terms of office, keep there the public records, books and papers pertaining to their respective offices, and shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.”
That applies to the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, agriculture commissioner and attorney general.
Justice, in short, explained his decision to live elsewhere by saying he doesn’t really need to live in a mansion.
“You see, I don’t need us to continue to spend the money because someone is just waiting on me or cooking my dinners or me having a party every other night to bring in and spend government money and stuff. I don’t want to do that,” he said.
“You know this may blow your mind but since I’ve been governor, the state of West Virginia has not bought a meal for me. And every day I feed the State Policeman out of my pocket. Anybody that’s with me, I pay for it. I pay for my vehicle and I pay for my gas. I try as best I can to not fly on the state plane, and I try to do stuff at the mansion to where now we’re having groups and we’re able to let the mansion be the people’s house.
“You don’t need me there to have a dinner every other night just to have a big time for me. You just don’t need that.”
The topic came up at the news conference because the administration had to cancel several events for the governor last week as he recovered from illness.
For much of the week, it was unclear where the governor was or his condition. It turned out, the governor himself acknowledged Saturday night, that he had been receiving tests and treatment at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore for a viral infection he’d had a hard time shaking.
During that time, there was not officially a chief of staff on duty. The governor fired chief of staff Nick Casey last Monday, coming out of Justice’s party switch from Democrat to Republican. At midweek, Republican Senator Mike Hall was named chief of staff, but Hall had not yet officially reported for duty until this Monday.
On Saturday night, while discussing his condition in a telephone interview, Justice described himself at home in Greenbrier County and recovering while searching on television for a Houston Texans and New England Patriots game. Both teams had practiced at The Greenbrier resort that week.
In addition to his responsibilities as governor, Justice continues to have responsibilities in Greenbrier County.
His family continues to own The Greenbrier resort, although Justice says he has stepped away from day-to-day operations and has put his daughter Jill in charge. Justice also coaches both the boys and girls basketball teams at Greenbrier East High School.
On Monday, he emphasized his belief that none of that will take a toll on his focus as governor.
“I’ll promise you to the Lord above, at the end of the day from a governor’s standpoint, taking a month off and going on vacation here or there, you’ll never see that out of me. I’ll be here. I’ll be here night and day. I won’t be going home at 4 o’clock just to go home and I won’t be not available at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock or midnight just because it’s past when the whistle blew,” he said. “I’m all in.”