The Governor’s race in West Virginia now sounds like a three-way battle—Jim Justice, Ben Salango… and Joe Manchin.
Okay, the Democratic Senator is not actually trying to get his old job back, but he is a strong supporter of Salango. He does not believe Justice is getting the job done as Governor and he has injected himself in the campaign.
Manchin and Justice have been trading barbs in the media. (Read more here from Brad McElhinny)
Just this week Manchin, during an appearance on Talkline, accused Justice of treating the $1.25 billion the state received from the CARES Act as a political “slush fund.”
Manchin claimed cities, counties, health departments, hospitals and school systems are having serious financial problems because of the pandemic and Justice is holding back on the money with plans to parse it out in the coming months to help his campaign.
“I mean this, and it’s not political, but the Governor is using this as a political slush fund,” Manchin said in a conference call with reporters. “He’s in an election year and using this as a political slush fund.”
Justice did not hold back in his response during Wednesday’s Covid-19 briefing, accusing Manchin of spreading falsehoods.
“It’s a lie,” Justice said. “What Senator Manchin ought to do is concentrate on the job he has in D.C. and get that job done and get that job done properly.” He then added, “He ought to not concentrate so much on trying to run Ben Salango’s campaign.”
Salango also weighed in, accusing Justice of “using his taxpayer-funded press conference to attack me.”
“We’ve asked Jim Justice to step up and help our small businesses, first responders, healthcare providers, and all West Virginians,” Salango said. “All he’s done is help himself.”
Beyond the politics, there is a legitimate issue about how the state spends the $1.25 billion.
Justice says he is not obligated to call a special session of the Legislature to determine how to spend the funds. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, appearing on Talkline Thursday, agreed, saying because the funds are a grant, the chief executive has the authority to appropriate the money.
The Department of the Treasury Office of the Inspector General has issued a report saying that as of July 23, West Virginia had already committed nearly half (48.6 percent) of the $1.25 billion, which is the fourth highest rate in the country.
Look for Justice to use that figure, as well as a more detailed breakdown of the committed funds, to push back against the criticisms by Manchin and Salango, while continuing to charge that Manchin and Salango are “playing politics” with the Covid-19 relief efforts.
But also expect Manchin and Salango to continue to “tag team” against Justice.