During a press conference last week following a two-day special session, Governor Jim Justice jokingly referred to Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead as “these two rascals.”
Carmichael and Armstead laughed, enjoying a moment with Justice following the passage of the road bond and a fast-moving special session where lawmakers overwhelmingly supported bills the Governor had introduced.
Had the Governor not been hobbled by an aching big toe following an operation, he might’ve put Carmichael and Armstead in a headlock and delivered some good-natured noogies to his new BFFs.
Relations between the Governor and Republican Legislative leaders have come a long way since earlier this year when Justice very publicly criticized and even berated lawmakers. Last February during a pitch at the Capitol for higher taxes for the road bond he referred to lawmakers who opposed him as “knuckleheads.”
Later when the state faced a shutdown if he and the lawmakers could not agree on a budget, he said the House Republican leadership was “on a mission from God” to cut state spending. That was a not-so-veiled reference to Armstead, who is deeply religious.
However, it’s evident that time, overwhelming support for the bond, and a few special session legislative victories have helped mend fences. Justice and Carmichael started creating a bond during the difficult days of the budget discussions and they are now tight and trusting.
Justice and Armstead are a little more wary of each other, but their working relationship has improved. “We were able to go down with the Senate and the Governor and have some very productive meetings,” Armstead said of the lead-up to the recently completed special session. “I was encouraged by that. That’s the way it should work and I hope that’s the way it continues to work.”
And that is to be determined. Justice kicked off his first session as Governor with a massive tax increase proposal. He hasn’t announced his agenda yet for 2018, but Armstead is already signaling to the Governor not to try that again.
“I’ve expressed to the Governor and to his staff that we’re going to be facing some of the same challenges, but there is going to be no will (in the House) to raise taxes,” Armstead told me on Talkline Tuesday. “The votes are not going to be there.”
Additionally, since 2018 is an election year Republicans may want to pass some “red meat” legislation that appeals to their base, and it’s unclear how Justice, who just last August switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, will respond to those.
However, for now at least, the Governor, his staff and leaders of the Republican majorities in both chambers are on the same team and the name calling is all in good fun. “We kinda laughed about it,” Armstead said of the Governor referring to him and Carmichael as “rascals.” “I’d rather be a rascal than a knucklehead, I think.”