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Nick Casey says he was fired by telephone while out of town celebrating anniversary

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff Nick Casey says he was fired because he has too many Democratic connections following the governor’s decision earlier this month to switch from Democrat to Republican.

Casey followed up on an early version of this story with an email:

“Saw the article.  I am in NY celebrating my 42nd wedding anniversary and Gov called before noon and fired me. Too many Dem connections. Gov wanted  to announce it before I got back on Wednesday. Looks like he moved fast,” Casey wrote in the email.

A statement from the governor’s office at 3:36 p.m. Monday praised Casey’s character but described disappointment with legislative outcomes. It did not overtly mention Casey’s Democratic Party connections.

Governor Jim Justice

“Nick Casey is a friend and a good man,” Justice stated in an emailed announcement. “There’s no question we all tried very hard during the legislative session to get things done, I wish we could have done better. I’ve given this a lot of thought and going forward I just didn’t see any pathway where it would work out.

“I appreciate the work Nick Casey has done and wish him well in the future.”

Justice also said he will conduct a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Governor’s Reception Room at the state Capitol.

Casey, 63, is a former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party and ran for Congress in 2014 as a Democrat.

He is a lawyer and an accountant and has been widely viewed as an able right-hand man for the governor, who won election based largely on his outsider status.

Finding a new and trusted chief of staff could be a challenge because the governor is new to the Republican Party and spent much of the past six months firing insults at GOP legislators.

Early names being rumored have included state Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall and former U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner, whose brother Mac is the Secretary of State.

Hall, who has been described by observers as the most consistent name under discussion, said via telephone this morning that he is in the mix but there is no certainty yet.

“I will admit we’ve had conversations,” said Hall, R-Putnam. “I know there’s an announcement tomorrow so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

He added, “Why don’t we wait and see what happens? There’s some names floating out there. Until it’s a done deal, let’s wait and see.”

Rumors were also swirling around Bray Cary, the former chief of the West Virginia Media television stations. Last fall, Justice’s campaign was at odds with Cary over perceived bias on “Decision Makers,” which Cary hosted. But Cary is tight with Senate President Mitch Carmichael, and Justice has often aligned with Carmichael.

After his party-switch announcement a little more than a week ago at a rally for President Donald Trump in Huntington, Justice said members of his top staff were welcome to stay. He said he had hired them for their skills, rather than for their party affiliation.

But Justice acknowledged some staffers might not feel they were able to stay.

Belinda Biafore

This evening, Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore blasted Justice, saying he’d broken another promise.

“Jim Justice lied yet again to the people of West Virginia,” Biafore stated in a release. “First, he lied when he said Nick knew he was switching parties and now, he’s been proven a liar once again when he told West Virginians that party affiliation didn’t matter in his office. Less than 2 weeks after his party switch his chief of staff who is loyal and hardworking has been let go simply because he is a Democrat. Who’s pulling Justice’s puppet strings? Or is he just being self serving Jim again?”

Last week while appearing on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Governor Justice said he is “perfectly comfortable with the staff.”

On that appearance, Justice recounted a conversation he’d had with top staff.

“I said, ‘If you feel the least bit uncomfortable in the direction we are going–because I know exactly what direction we’re going here. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable in your loyalty to me then you’ve got to go,’” Justice said.

Grant Herring

In that same interview, Justice said some staff seemed certain to go, starting with Press Secretary Grant Herring, who came up through national Democratic Party politics.

“Grant has done a great job and he’s a good young man but Grant’s personal feelings are entrenched in the Democratic Party through and through. I do not think Grant is going to survive with me,” Justice said on “Talkline.”

Right after making his party switch, Justice said all are welcome to remain on staff — unless they personally have strong feelings against doing so.

“I never asked anyone if they were a Republican or a Democrat in the hiring process, and I’ll tell them exactly that,” Justice said. “I asked them to come to work for me because I thought they were the right people for the right jobs.

“Now, if they’re uncomfortable and they have an issue and they can’t get by it themselves, then they need to go. But from my standpoint, I never asked anyone ‘Are you a Republican, are you a Democrat?’”

With much of the governor’s top staff, it’s fairly obvious what their party affiliation has been.

Assistant chief of staff Jason Pizatella and Joey Garcia, senior counsel for legislation and policy, are veterans of former Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s Democratic administration. Derek Scarbro — the governor’s director of intergovernmental affairs and former campaign manager for Justice — was executive director of the West Virginia Democratic executive committee for nine years.

One of the cabinet secretaries, Education & the Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin, is the wife of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

There’s plenty for the administration to be working on.

At the top of the list is working with the federal government to assure flood relief for disaster-struck residents in northern counties. Another is uncovering why the state has been late on required federal audits for three consecutive years and assuring it won’t happen for a fourth.

Asked about that list of tasks and the ability to carry on with the tasks of the governor’s office if there’s an exodus all at once, Governor Justice said the normal work of the administration will continue.

“The train always seems to go on. Do we really believe that by losing a few key members, or really the engineer, me — the train always goes on. And what we’ve got to do is, sometimes it becomes difficult,” Justice said.

“I’m telling you, this train is going to move on and it’s going to go north.”

Justice announced his party switch at the Trump rally Aug. 3, citing his close relationship and inspiration by the president.

Justice also said Democrats in the Legislature left him by not signing on to his preferred revenue plan, although Democrats are in the minority in both houses. That goes back to the reference Justice made in his statement on Casey about not being able to get enough done.

Again on “Talkline,” Justice said he told Casey as far back as a month ago that he was planning to make his party switch.

Other staff, though, said they weren’t aware of Justice’s decision until the New York Times broke the story the afternoon of President Trump’s rally in Huntington.

Nick Casey

When Casey was first announced as chief of staff early last December, Justice expressed excitement about his character and credentials.

“Nick Casey is as genuine as they come, and will be a tremendous asset to my administration and the people of West Virginia,” Justice said in a news release.

“He has the experience and the background to really help me transform our state. Nick knows how to bring people together, and will help lead my team in taking West Virginia to new heights. Nick is a caring man who’s dedicated himself to helping others in need; he understands the true meaning of service.”

Casey served as Democratic Party chairman during part of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s time as governor. Casey ran for Congress in 2014 and was defeated in the fall election by Republican Congressman Alex Mooney.

Casey was the treasurer of Justice’s successful gubernatorial campaign.

Casey’s comments weren’t included in today’s announcement. Last December, he said he was honored to be chosen to serve in the Justice administration.

“It’s a real honor to serve the Governor-elect and the people of West Virginia in this new role,” Casey stated back then.

“West Virginia has so much potential, and I am excited for this opportunity to help Jim Justice make our state number one. I’m working with Governor-elect Justice to fill our cabinet and transition team with West Virginia’s best and brightest.”

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