WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice announced his re-election bid today, saying there is unfinished business and that he’s the guy for the job.
“Just think. What’s the odds. I’ll promise you there’s never been one in West Virginia before. There’s a lot, a lot of good people out there. But there’s not very many that will step up and say ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it for nothing,'” Justice said at today’s announcement.
Justice, a billionaire businessman, has sometimes cast doubt on whether he would run again.
But today, at a rally that began with “Born to Run” as buildup music, he said there is more work to do.
“I’m a doer. I want to get things done,” he said, specifying continued work to alleviate West Virginia’s opioid epidemic.
With the aid of a hype video, Justice ticked off accomplishments of the past couple of years — including an improved state revenue picture and the statewide passage of a road bond.
“I just feel like in my heart, that I can do it,” he said. “And whether it’s egotistical or not, not very often can somebody come along that’s me — that has a big-thinking, big-creative thinking mind and a lot, a lot of experience and made so many mistakes it’s unbelievable.
“But I’ve learned from them, and I have a real talent for the people as far as communicating with them.”
Jim Justice https://t.co/ZFomzHZTJ4
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) January 7, 2019
As he did when he first ran in 2016, Justice described his business background as a strength.
“How many times is someone going to step forward that has lots of business interests, lots of things going on, lots of abilities, lots of experience. Who are you going to find?” he asked the crowd today.
“Have we ever had someone, ever — and I’m not sitting here tooting my horn in any way — have we ever had someone ever who had the guts, that was willing to step into all the junk and take the toll that had the experience and the creative mind and could think with the biggest ideas in the world — and just maybe he would do it for nothing for us?”
The well-publicized debt problems of Justice’s businesses also provide a likely area of criticism for political opponents.
Asked about what his response will be, Justice today said he’ll continue to insist the companies will make good.
“I’ll give the same answer I’ve given so many times before,” he said, “and that’s just this. My family has grown a business empire and with that you have difficulties just as if you were running a lemonade stand.
“And as you have the difficulties you work through the difficulties.”
Several of the companies owned by his family face millions of dollars in court-ordered collections, though. Those are problems that may persist through the 2020 election cycle.
“As big as the empire is, there’s always going to be something,” he said. “There’s always going to be something that somebody can throw a rock at.”
His only opponent so far, Democrat Stephen Smith, responded by saying Justice has done little to help regular West Virginians.
Smith accused Justice of getting rich on the backs of workers and through political favors.
“We don’t need four more years of government of, by, and for billionaires,” said Smith, who ran the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.
“The people of West Virginia are ready to govern.”
Even though Justice has served two years of his term and now wants another four years, he continued to express an aversion to politics. A sign at today’s event said “Results Not Politics.”
And although he won statewide office as a Democratic candidate, Justice switched parties and now runs as a Republican.
Today’s primary campaign kickoff was announced by the state Republican Party with no hint if there will be any GOP challengers.
“I’ve been a star for waving the Republican flag,” he said. “I believe it and everything.”
Rather than being at the seat of government, today’s event was in White Sulphur Springs, a stone’s throw from The Greenbrier Resort owned by the governor and his family.
Justice has continued to live in nearby Lewisburg, about two hours from Charleston, rather than at the seat of government as specified by the state Constitution.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) January 7, 2019
“Doing this job takes a toll. Doing this job is not easy,” Justice said today.
That was in contrast to a statement made in a 2016 debate against Senate President Bill Cole, that year’s Republican candidate.
At the time, Justice said the state had key ingredients for success that should make the governor’s job a slam dunk.
“This job is not that hard. That’s a heck of a ball team. You just have to have someone who can go out and sell our state,” Justice said then.
The event at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center included the Greenbrier East girls basketball team coached by Justice, as well as the high school’s color guard.
And it included some of Justice’s employees. Singers from The Greenbrier performed.
In the audience were key members of the governor’s cabinet, including senior adviser Bray Cary, Chief of Staff Mike Hall, chief counsel Brian Abraham, Deputy Chief of Staff Ann Urling, Transportation Commissioner Tom Smith, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy and Tourism Commissioner Dave Hardy.
Some were careful to say they had taken the day off.
Also there were state schools Superintendent Steve Paine and several members of the state school board, who are appointed by the governor.
Back in Charleston, a meeting of the Board of Public Works that had been set for today was canceled. Justice said that’s because there was not a quorum.
Justice and Paine represent a third of the membership of the body, which also includes the state Treasurer, state Auditor, Attorney General and the Agriculture Commissioner.
Justice said he’d meant to have the kickoff at 11 to make it back in time for the meeting of the state’s top elected officers at 2:30.
The state Democratic Party, which Justice represented as a candidate three years ago, issued a statement criticizing his priorities.
“Governor Jim Justice was campaigning today instead of showing up to work during interims or to prepare for this year’s 2019 Legislative Session,” stated party chairwoman Belinda Biafore.
“Educators, state workers, and other fellow West Virginia workers were on the job while Governor Justice was playing politics touting questionable accomplishments and stretches of his imagination.”
Justice said he did not want to wait any longer to make his intention to run again clear.
“I just hate for people to keep asking: ‘Are you going to run, are you going to run, are you going to run,’ and everything,” he said.
“People ought to know. I’m not one to spend people’s time with suspense. I just want people to know where I stand and what I’m doing.”