CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice issued an overt invitation today for Virginia individuals and counties to make a break for the border.
“If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or wherever you may be,” Justice said today during an appearance in Martinsburg, just a few miles from the Virginia line.
Justice appeared with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the famed evangelist, who also expressed support for a Virginia exodus — already becoming known as Vexit.
Justice was prompted by a couple of resolutions pending in West Virginia’s House of Delegates that would invite Virginia counties to link up with the state that split away in 1863.
But overriding the pitch was the current state of Virginia politics.
In Virginia, Democrats have the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. They have used the new legislative majorities to push legislation that would expand access to abortion and voting, a ban on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, background checks for gun owners and an increase in the minimum wage.
That has resulted in pushback such as “Second Amendment sanctuaries” against gun control laws passed by the state.
As in many states, the political divide is largely between urban and rural areas.
Governor Justice, a Republican who won office as a Democrat, suggested that Virginia’s rural counties might have more in common with West Virginia.
“We stand strongly behind the Second Amendment and we stand strongly behind the unborn,” said Justice, whose re-election bid has opposition in both the upcoming primary and general elections.
His pitch came at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in a growing area of West Virginia.
This entire issue came up a few weeks ago with a resolution sponsored by Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan. His resolution renews a longstanding invitation for Frederick County, Va., to join West Virginia.
The Senate passed it earlier this month, and it has gone to West Virginia’s House of Delegates for further consideration.
Then another, bigger, broader one invites any Virginia county with widespread feeling of neglect by the capital in Richmond to take a vote and switch states. That one with 38 sponsors out of West Virginia’s 100 delegates is awaiting further action.
But the main sponsor, Government Organization Chairman Gary Howell, has been making a round of media appearances. On Tuesday, he was chatting with conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck followed by an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“This is a big deal. This is the greatest opportunity to expand the state of West Virginia since 1863,” Howell said from an office at West Virginia’s capital where, behind him, were a hanging quilt and a mounted deer head.
“If you look at a lot of the people in the Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge and even the south side of Virginia, they’re very similar culturally, demographically, and a lot of the geography is the same. They share more with us than they do with Tidewater, Richmond and Northern Virginia. We look at it like, they’re coming home.”
Falwell, standing alongside West Virginia’s governor, said he likes the idea.
“I would vote for it,” Falwell said of a possible referendum.
Falwell and Justice said their families had known each other for many years. Falwell said his son alerted him to the invitation to Virginia counties and he followed up by reaching out to Justice. He said they had been on the phone together every night for about a week, leading to the joint appearance.
“The palpable yearning in Virginia for greater freedom with our family in West Virginia grows greater by the day,” Falwell said in comments that he read aloud.
Falwell acknowledged the entire notion is a longshot, depending largely on grassroots support.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think opportunities like this come along in history very often.”