CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has named Clayton Burch to be interim Commerce Secretary after the forced resignation of Woody Thrasher.
Burch is also the state official that Justice turned to after Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin had a sudden parting of the ways with the administration.
Burch earlier served as state Associate Superintendent of Schools, serving as the No. 2 to state Superintendent Steve Paine. Before that, he served as the head of the Division of Teaching and Learning.
“Clayton has done a fantastic job as Acting Secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts, as we transitioned to the new agency structure, and I know he will do a great job as the Interim Secretary of Commerce too,” Justice announced today.
Governor Justice emphasized that this is expected to be a brief appointment and he will immediately begin considering individuals to take the lead at one of West Virginia’s most important departments.
“Truly, economic development is an important engine that drives our state, and we must have an outstanding team in place that understands how to bring business and jobs to West Virginia,” Justice stated.
Justice announced on Thursday that he had asked for and received the resignation of Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher.
Thrasher was in hot water over issues with the RISE West Virginia long-term flood recovery program, which was being administered by the Department of Commerce
Thrasher earlier was at the center of a China investment deal potentially worth billions of dollars.
The government arm of West Virginia economic development is without its top three officers. Thrasher has now been forced out, Development Office executive director Kris Hopkins left of his own accord, and Josh Jarrell, the deputy secretary for Commerce, was also pushed out.
In a news conference today about a variety of issues, Justice said he is looking for a good fit to lead Commerce as soon as possible.
“Well, really I don’t know quite yet. I’m looking. I’m looking. We need to find somebody really good,” he said.
He later added that he doesn’t believe the China deal hinges on Thrasher, who had been the face of it.
Justice said it came about because of his own friendship with President Donald Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said he has been troubled by Thrasher’s resignation.
“I was very comfortable with Woody in that position,” Prezioso, D-Marion, said this morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“There’s no better person than Woody Thrasher to be there and do that deal. Now we don’t know who’s in charge.”
Senator Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, had similar comments.
“I’m sad that he’s gone,” Gaunch said today on “Talkline.”
“I think West Virginia was better for having Woody on board. And I hope — I think it’s important because he was the face of economic development in West Virginia — that we have an appointment sooner than later so we can get back to doing the work that needs to be done in Commerce.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Thrasher served at the will and pleasure of the governor, who ultimately makes the call.
Carmichael said he still does not know all the details of what was happening in Commerce.
“Only the governor knows all the specifics of what has transpired in that organization that Woody was running, so if he’s lost confidence in Woody, he’s right to let him go,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.