Justice aims at Michael Bloomberg and hits finances, education reform and Craig Blair

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice — who is dealing with financial, legal and political fires all at once — says everyone should just chill.

“I’ve gone through a heck of a two weeks,” Justice said toward the end of a Monday afternoon press conference. “I’ll give you that.”

Monday started with the state Senate Finance chairman, a member of Justice’s own party, calling on the governor to resign because of all the problems.

Then, two events occurred while Justice was taking questions at the news conference.

One was an agreement by some of the companies owned by Justice’s family to settle millions of dollars in back taxes in eastern Kentucky counties. That news was broken by the Herald-Leader newspaper in Lexington, Ky.

Separately, and about the same time, word came down that Justice’s Southern Coal Corp. had been served a subpoena to produce tax documents in a longstanding federal court dispute.

In that case, the National Union Fire Insurance Company won an $800,000 judgment but hasn’t been able to collect. A special commissioner was appointed to facilitate. That subpoena doesn’t appear to be directly related to separate federal subpoenas that have been issued to examine Justice’s businesses.

So there was no shortage of drama to start this week, but when asked about the business situation Justice suggested the public should leave it alone.

“Don’t worry about my stuff. Don’t worry about my businesses. Don’t worry about a thing in the world except for this state,” he said. “Things are going to be fine in my business world.”

Justice’s troubles aren’t simple.

He’s had plaintiffs attorneys coming after overdue judgments in multiple layers of the court system. His preference to reside in Lewisburg, rather than at the seat of government, was the focus of a circuit court hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice is coming after his businesses on defaults to both the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Surface Mining.

Politically, a war of words erupted over the past week with Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair over Justice’s tepid support of an omnibus education bill.

But Justice actually gathered lobbyists and media into one room on Monday to blast former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Last week, Bloomberg pledged $500 million to try to eliminate coal-fired power plants and to curtail gas-powered plants.

With everything else going on, Justice said that should be the focus.

“What we’re here about today is one thing” — and that’s Michael Bloomberg and his $500 million to lobby against coal-fired power plants plus natural gas,” Justice said at the beginning of his remarks.

“As journalists, it’s really time that we get out of the drama and focus on something that could be catastrophic to the state of West Virginia.”

Bloomberg has described using the money to support lobbyists for environmental causes at the state and local level. Money also would support candidates with green platforms.

Justice, whose family has coal holdings, spoke while flanked by five lobbyists from the coal and gas industries.

“We cannot afford this level of attack on us,” Justice said.

The governor’s day began with a broadside.

Senate Finance Chairman Blair, R-Berkeley, stated in print over the weekend that Justice’s many issues mean he should step aside.

“For months, everyone has been talking about it, but now I am clearly and loudly saying it: Jim Justice is an embarrassment to our state and should resign and try to attend to his family business obligations,” Blair stated in a sponsorship spot in local newspapers.

Monday morning on statewide radio, Blair repeated his position. Blair said he will sponsor a resolution of no confidence the next time the Senate gets together.

“I’m tired of covering for this man,” Blair said.

Asked during the press conference to respond to what Blair had said, Justice called the finance chairman a bully.

“Craig Blair is a bully. A bully. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said.

Relationships strained a week ago when Justice expressed reservations about aspects of the omnibus education bill. Although the Governor’s Office initially put out a congratulatory statement about the bill, Justice since has said the approach is on track to be a waste of time and money.

“Division within our own party is not good. I think of Craig Blair and Mitch as halfway friends,” Justice said. “The problem I have is, I think they’ve dug themselves a hole and I’m not going to help them dig.”

Justice also objected to the Senate Finance Committee issuing monthly revenue numbers before the Governor’s Office.

“They released our revenue numbers. When has that ever been done before? It’s just petty,” the governor said.

That led Blair to respond yet again. He said he’s made a habit of updating the Senate and the public with revenue numbers, and nothing had changed.

“If the Governor – when he does come to work – wants to call me petty for updating the members of the Senate and the public about their tax dollars in a timely fashion, so be it,” Blair stated.

“For him to call this information ‘our’ revenue numbers tells you everything you need to know: It’s all about Governor Jim Justice.”

Justice’s answer to all of this was leadership.

“You need me to lead. And if Republicans are going off a cliff and I know it, then you need me to lead,” he said.

He concluded by saying, “I’m going to lead. I’m going to lead all the time.”

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