WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Greenbrier Resort owner Jim Justice promised a campaign focused on jobs and reuniting West Virginia families as he announced his campaign for governor before an enthusiastic crowd Monday afternoon at the White Sulphur Civic Center in Greenbrier County.
“I tell you there’s something really, really wrong when our families in this state are fragmented all to pieces—and they are. And why?” Justice asked. “Because they can’t find a job. The kids are all gone because they can’t find a job.”
Vowing bold leadership to rebuild the state’s economy, the 64-year-old Justice said he would be a different kind of candidate, a non-politician, who isn’t worried about preserving himself in office.
“I can tell you that our state and our people are hurting and we need somebody to step forward that doesn’t have a vested interest in trying to do something for themselves,” he said. “You need somebody that loves our state and doesn’t want a nickel for doing it.”
The 2016 race will mark the first try at politics for Justice, a Raleigh County native and a member of Forbes Magazine’s billionaires list.
Justice’s estimated wealth exceeds $1.6 billion. He’s made his money in coal, corn and other products. In recent years, he was best known for salvaging the Greenbrier out of near-bankruptcy. Since the 2009 purchase he added jobs and high-profile events, including the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic and the New Orleans Saints’ summer training camp.
The gregarious Justice didn’t promise miracles but he said he’s not afraid of hard work.
“I will promise you that I won’t give up. I won’t give in. Just because things are tough—who cares? For crying out loud they were tough at the Greenbrier too,” he said.
Criticisms of a Justice campaign preceded Monday afternoon’s announcement. The West Virginia Republican Party published “five things you should know about Jim Justice,” a list that dings Justice’s political contributions, coal mining environmental record, dealings with small businesses and his Old White Charities.
State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, who announced last month that he’ll run for governor, criticized Justice’s philosophy Monday on MetroNews “Talkline,” casting doubt as to whether Justice is truly a Democrat.
Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, released a statement welcoming Justice into politics.
“The DGA welcomes Jim Justice to the West Virginia governor’s race. Jim Justice is a strong candidate with a record of creating jobs for working families and investing in West Virginia communities. We are confident that Democrats will keep the West Virginia governor’s office in 2016,” Pearson said.
Justice, surrounded by supporters, left no doubt Monday what would be the focus of his campaign.
“Because you see at the end of the rainbow we can say anything we want, but this is all about one thing and that’s jobs. If you don’t have a job it all falls by the wayside. Everything starts with a job,” he said.
No gubernatorial candidate can file for office until next January. Candidates can file pre-candidacy papers, however, which Justice said he plans to do Tuesday at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.