Gov. Jim Justice says there is no debate about whether he will debate his GOP primary opponents.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” the governor said.
Justice said he reached that conclusion for three reasons, which he described while ticking them off with his fingers.
First, the governor said he has been focused on West Virginia’s coronavirus precautions and in dealing with the economic effects.
Part of that has been daily briefings that typically last about an hour. The briefings have been conducted through teleconferencing technology with some reporters chosen to ask a question each day but without the opportunity to follow up for additional clarity.
Justice said, “I don’t know how you can ask of me to expose any more level of transparency because you have been able to ask me anything and everything every day.”
Second, the governor objected to recent advertisements by rival Woody Thrasher’s campaign that focus on some violent offenders among 70 parolees released amid pandemic precautions.
An early version of the ads focused on a convicted murderer who was granted parole in 2017, was jailed again early this year on a parole violation and then was released after serving 60 days. State officials have said the man, Michael David Day, was inadvertently named along with others released in pandemic precautions.
Justice called the ads “a bald-faced lie.”
He also said it is “the godawfulest lie in the history of the world.”
Third, the governor suggested a debate would be divisive. He suggested internal polling shows him with a significant edge.
So, Justice concluded, the most likely outcome from a debate “damage the Republican party, damage us in a situation where we’re going to be running in a General Election to win and keep the majority with the Republican Party.”
Justice did not participate in the Republican primary in 2016. He ran as a Democrat, debating his opponents that year once.
He switched parties a few months after being inaugurated, so Republican primary voters have not had a chance until now to decide whether they want Justice to be their nominee.
Today the governor said of his stated reasons to not debate, “Why in the world would I be taking time away from what I’m trying to do here and run out and do something political? Like I said, I don’t even know where my political office is downtown now. All I’m doing is trying to take care of West Virginia.
“If that’s not good enough it’s not good enough. But I think it’s a waste of time.”
Thrasher’s campaign, responding today, defended the advertisement and also said Justice should debate.
“We welcome the opportunity for Woody Thrasher to stand on a debate stage and directly address the reality of what’s happened to West Virginia since Governor Justice took office,” campaign manager Ann Ali stated.
“Facts don’t lie, but Jim Justice does.”
Another candidate, Mike Folk, said he’s the only Republican candidate for governor to have been elected to state office as a Republican. Folk served in the House of Delegates for three terms.
“He knows if he gets in a debate stage with me – people will know who Mike Folk is, and I’m going to eat his lunch,” said Folk, R-Berkeley.
“He said all the debate would do is damage the Republican Party. No, what damaged the Republican Party is when he switched parties but kept the same principles. A debate would actually clean the Republican Party out by getting rid of the deadbeat Republican governor who is using his time every day on this circus.”
Folk said debating would allow people to assess differences among the candidates.
For example, Justice has continued to favor federal relief to help West Virginia’s state budget that has been strained through the economic effects of the coronavirus response.
Folk countered, “If the federal government bails out West Virginia they do it by only one means. They print money out of thin air, which everybody pays for, especially the hardworking taxpayers of West Virginia. Don’t bank on using this to fill general revenue budget gaps.”
Folk also objected to Justice’s approach to an enormous budget gap when he first took office.
“The last time we had a budget situation like we have right now was in 2017,” he said. “The solution he sought back then was to raise taxes by $450 million, not to cut the budget or find savings in the budget.”