Justice decries ‘politics’ and ‘noise’ about administration’s pandemic response

Gov. Jim Justice isn’t wild about push-back on his administration’s policies during the pandemic.

Justice focused his preliminary and concluding remarks during a week-ending news briefing on describing views that counter his administration’s pandemic policies as “noise” or “politics.”

“The more we just politicize this right here, the more it will hurt,” Justice said.

West Virginia’s Primary Election is coming up June 9.

Right now, a few issues seemed to be bothering Justice.

One was questioning over whether persistent efforts by some economic sectors led to getting the OK for reopening. Justice described heavy call volume for tanning beds and gyms this week when he announced their reopenings, but then said their push wasn’t the biggest factor.

“Now it’s irritating as it can be to listen to people come up and say ‘Well, the reason we opened the tanning beds is because we had a bunch of people complaining about the tanning beds,” Justice said today.

He continued, “If you really believe these decisions have been made because of a bunch of noise, you’re way out there.”

Another irritant was questioning over his administration’s cautious approach to $1.25 billion in federal funding. Justice has wanted to use the money to fill a state budget gap and says the money must be divvied up with care.

Senator Joe Manchin, a former governor, has twice criticized Justice for sitting on the money.

“Joe needs to pay attention to what’s in Washington,” Justice said, aiming displeasure at a bill in Congress that would actually provide nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments.

Manchin, D-W.Va. responded to similar comments earlier this week by saying the money already in the state’s possession should be used right away for testing, personal protective equipment, sanitation equipment, supporting the homeless, helping small businesses and more.

“I disagree with the governor, this is not political it is a matter of survival for all West Virginians,” Manchin stated.

And Democratic members of the state House of Delegates sent Justice a letter this week requesting a portion of the $1.25 billion be allocated to the West Virginia Small Business Emergency Relief Fund.

“From my standpoint, that preaching hurts us,” Justice said. “The more we just politicize this right here, the more it will hurt.”

Isaac Sponaugle

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, responded that lawmakers have been passing along the concerns and desires of their constituents.

“We’re sitting on $1.25 billion, and the governor is acting like Scrooge McDuck taking his daily money swim in his big vault instead of getting that money out,” Sponaugle said in a telephone interview.

He noted that , Montana, for instance, set up a relief advisory council that recommended aiming portions of that state’s $1.25 billion at a safety net for people, businesses and nonprofits; additional business stabilization; and tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors.

Sponaugle, who has rarely been shy about expressing disagreement with the governor, said such differences do not equate to playing politics.

“It’s a different policy opinion on how we need to be using that money,” he said.

“I’m not saying you blow $1.25 billion, but we haven’t spent a dime of it yet, and that’s ludicrous.”

Justice’s comments on Friday were carried out a theme he’d begun expressing earlier in the week.

He was asked Tuesday about a letter from some state union, public interest and social justice groups asking for clarity on whether workers with chronic health issues or those who live with someone in a vulnerable category may still claim unemployment.

“Let’s please stop the politics, please,” Justice said that day. “That’s all there is to it. That’s all this is.”

The groups had credited Justice for serious consideration of West Virginia’s high-risk population and asked for further consideration of protections for at-risk workers.

“Our intention is to work with the Justice Administration and WorkForce WV to ensure that at-risk workers are not forced to choose between their health and their finances,” the groups wrote in response to Justice’s comments. “Public health is not a political

Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen, director of policy engagement for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, today said the groups still respectfully hope for an answer.

“We’ve not yet heard back from the Governor’s office or WorkForce WV in response to our recommendations and requests for clarification of current policy,” Allen said today.

“We’d hoped (and still do hope) that our letter would be a starting point of collaboration and that it would clarify that the Governor has the authority and obligation to protect at-risk workers.”

But at today’s news conference, Justice returned to umbrage at questioning of his administration, beginning and ending with criticism of politics.

He said the administration has been focused on response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis and should not be distracted.

“The last thing is just this,” he said. “Everybody has an opinion, and for crying out loud we want to be respectful of those opinions and we want to listen, and we want to learn and recruit more and more and more knowledge.

“But just the idea of someone coming out and saying ‘Well, let’s just take this money and this money and let’s do this and let’s do this and let’s do this and everything else’ when really and truly the mathematics just won’t work or the guidelines are not even in.”

He concluded, “Sure we have an election coming up and sure there are issues but for gosh sakes a living we have an absolute pandemic to still deal with. We have an economic meltdown of this whole nation to deal with. I mean, can we not try as best we can to keep our focus on the ball and just stay eyes on the ball? Thank you all so much.”

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