CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice spoke for 20 minutes at media day for The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament.
He described the resort’s comeback from the devastating 2016 flood.
He criticized the PGA Tour for not donating enough for flood relief.
He provided details over The Greenbrier’s struggles receiving payment on a multi-million dollar insurance claim.
He expressed hurt feelings over criticism he and his family have taken.
And he told a detailed story about someone on social media who criticized him for going fishing.
“For any of you who maybe came today to ask a question – ‘This person said this.’ ‘This person said this.’ Now you know. Now you know every single bit of the story. I hope to God you’ll print it. I hope you’ll print every word I’ve said,” Justice told a crowd of sportswriters today.
“Because this story is an incredible American story about coming back and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing every single day. That’s what we do. That’s exactly what I do. That’s what I’ve done forever.”
When Justice became governor in 2017, he placed his daughter Jill in charge of The Greenbrier. He has talked about pursuing a blind trust of his assets, including The Greenbrier, but there has been no reported progress.
“I have almost zero to do with the Greenbrier now and to be perfectly honest,” he said at today’s press conference.
He said he chose to speak in case the organizers of The Greenbrier Classic couldn’t answer questions about the 2016 flood, how resort was affected or the response to long-term flood relief by his administration as governor. He started talking about all those issues before any questions were even asked.
The Justice administration has come under scrutiny during the past month for its handling of million of dollars in long-term relief from the federal government.
West Virginia RISE in the Department of Commerce in the Justice administration is the state agency designated to manage Community Development Block Grants for disaster relief authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Of the $149,875,000 West Virginia has available, the state still has $148,736,333 left on hand.
West Virginia made its request to start using the money this past Jan. 29. HUD gave its OK on Feb. 20.
Within that broader issue, have been questions about why the Governor’s Office halted a contract with a consultant tasked with managing the federal dollars.
The Greenbrier’s recovery
Today, as Justice did last week, he described the flooding issues The Greenbrier faced in 2016 as well as his own active role in helping with flood recovery in that area prior to his becoming governor.
Justice talked about The Greenbrier’s condition after the 2016 flood — water surging down hillsides, a tennis stadium with debris in the upper decks, golf courses in need of repair.
“A lot of people cast stones at The Greenbrier’s troubles and The Greenbrier’s struggles for The Greenbrier to get back to where it was,” he said into a microphone today while sitting in a chair on a stage.
He continued, “People can be really cruel, to tell you the truth. And gosh knows I’ve learned that by being the governor. The Greenbrier had the worst weather-related event that I know of in the history of our state. I was right dead in the middle of it. I waded in the mud. I took lunches. I helped hunt bodies. Nothing in my life have I ever been through was as tough as that.”
“And yet, again when I’m trying to help. And this is from the government side, trying to help to stop waste and stop the things that were going on that were wrong and re-set, I end up being the one that people are throwing rocks at. It’s not any good. It’s not fair. But I’m OK. I’m OK with all that. Here’s what I’m not OK with. No, I’m not OK with that either. ”
Despite the overwhelming nature of the disaster, he said, he personally helped with flood recovery in Greenbrier County and the resort opened its doors to flood victims.
But, he said, not everyone appreciates that.
“Now think about this just for a second. The same stones that are cast all over the place and says ‘Well, is The Greenbrier going under or is The Greenbrier dead? Or why isn’t this getting done?’ And I’ll just be as blunt as I can be. You just need to ask yourself one question.
“Tour players really stepped up and helped, whether it was Bubba and Angie or Phil Mickelson and on and on and on. Ask yourself, what did the PGA Tour do? What did they do? You’ll find hollow answers.”
He said he and his family don’t deserve criticism over West Virginia’s flood recovery effort or how The Greenbrier has fared in the two years since the flood.
“But your stones are terrible. They’re terrible toward an incredibly good family that never wanted a thing, never wanted a thing,” he said.
“A family that has given tens of tens of tens of millions to make this tournament a reality for you, for West Virginia. This family never wanted a thing. Never wanted a thing for running or governor. The last thing on earth I want is to sit here and act like in any way and if anybody says I’m trying to promote the Greenbrier, you’re crazy.”
Justice expanded on his feeling that his family hasn’t received the appreciation it deserves.
“Now, just ask yourself. How could you be here today? How could you be here? I mean, you’re here because of this family. That’s why you’re here. This tournament’s here because of this family.
“This tournament’s not here because of the PGA. This tournament’s not here because of the insurance companies coming through and doing what they’re supposed to do. All the stones that are cast about this family. Were they fair? They’re not fair. They’re nowhere close to right. They’re so wrong it’s unbelievable.”
Employees and sprinkles
And he said Greenbrier employees are wonderful. But there’s always someone who is critical.
“The people who work at The Greenbrier are the greatest people under the sun. There’s always a sprinkle, isn’t there? There’s always a sprinkle that have a lack of gratitude beyond belief. Somebody should turn to them and say ‘What if it weren’t for that family, where would it be? Would you be getting up early in Charlotte to face the traffic to drive to your job? You know, where would you be?’
“But yet employment at The Greenbrier is still the same or even higher. Things are getting better. Every day we get better. Every day. Every single day we get better.”
He took issue with The Greenbrier’s insurer, just as he did last Monday when he was in a press conference about long-term flood relief for vulnerable West Virginians.
He said The Greenbrier had between $500 million and $600 million in total insurance coverage. He said the resort turned in $107 million in claims. And he said the resort has only received about $37 million.
“And that’s really important that you know that,” the governor said today. “You know the Greenbrier has not received a dime from the insurance company in 17 months.”
He said he appreciates residents of The Greenbrier Sporting Club who have been supportive. But sometimes a sliver of criticism can be really upsetting, the governor said.
“You have umpteen, umpteen great Sporting Club members that stepped up and did all kinds of great things. They did all kinds of greatness. And you have a sprinkle of view that are probably on Facebook or whatever it may be from time to time.
“At the end of the day, some of those people may very well have been here when their property was worthless when Big Jim came to the rescue when this place was on its last legs and could have closed. Their property had become almost worthless and this family stepped in and saved them too.”
He finished his talk with a story about a Facebook post by a man who wanted a job at Bluestone Industries, the coal company now run by Justice’s son Jay. The company announced last week its intention of hiring 250 miners.
The governor said someone responded to the man’s post with another bit of criticism about the governor, his wife Cathy and daughter Jill going fishing. He said he heard about the post from Cam Huffman, a spokesman for The Greenbrier.
“And they posted to that guy something along the lines of Justice and them are fishing. First time I’ve been fishing this year. The very first time. I’ve played three holes of golf. I’m the guy who one time killed 73 grouse in one season. I killed two last year. You know, I work. That’s all I do,” the governor said.
“But they posted back to this guy that just needed a job to help his four kids to his family. And they posted back ‘The governor’s fishing and he’s driving the Greenbrier and don’t look for anything because he’s driven the Greenbrier into the ground.’
“Now look, I don’t even know how to get on Facebook. I’ve got a fliphone. I don’t even know how to turn it on. And so how would I know. I think Cam told me. But nevertheless, you know the story, I felt like it’s important to tell you the story.”
The governor then concluded his remarks.
He said The Greenbrier Classic will be great again this year. He said there will be fireworks.
Then the governor introduced Habibi Mamone, the executive tournament director.
“From this point, I’m going to ask Habibi to come up here and take this chair because there’s nothing else I can say to you. There’s no other question,” he said.
“I would just say to you just this. You’ve got a crackerjack family here, you’ve got unbelievable people in our Sporting Club, you’ve got unbelievable people that work here and you have a phenomenal state. Don’t let those that cast stones tear us all down.”
His audience clapped, as the governor parted behind a curtain.