Gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango challenged incumbent Gov. Jim Justice to five debates today, although a response from Justice’s campaign didn’t sound like the offer was accepted.
“Governor Justice and I have a lot to discuss,” Salango said.
Salango gave a range of examples, including the handling of a request for mass covid testing at a Princeton nursing home that wound up with an outbreak, use of federal relief dollars, a legislative special session to oversee the coronavirus and economic responses, Justice companies’ clean water act violations and involvement with First Energy and its tax break from last year.
“Those are issues that just arose this week,” said Salango, a Kanawha County Commissioner.
Justice, who did not debate his Primary Election challengers, didn’t address debates during a briefing today — although he did blast Salango and decry “politics.”
Salango, a Democrat, and Justice, a Republican who won office as a Democrat, had back-to-back public appearances on Friday morning.
Salango said he has already accepted invitations to participate in five debates sponsored by WSAZ-TV, Nexstar Media, Stubblefield Institute at Shepherd University and WRNR/TV10 Martinsburg, and WCHS/WTOV.
Salango and Justice have already agreed to meet Oct. 13 for the West Virginia Broadcasters Association Debate.
“We can compare his actions, my actions, his ideas and my ideas,” said Salango, who said the different debates also offer geographic diversity.
He suggested Justice could follow the example of President Donald Trump, the governor’s political ally.
“President Trump has agreed to four, so I can’t imagine Governor Justice would agree to less than that,” Salango said.
A few hours after Salango issued his challenge, Justice’s campaign sent out a statement accusing him of a “political stunt.”
“It’s not uncommon when a candidate is losing, and voters learn about their views to want to change the subject,” stated Roman Stauffer, campaign manager for Justice.
Justice, during regular briefings meant to provide updates on West Virginia’s coronavirus response, has taken umbrage at criticism — and sometimes perceived criticism — from Salango.
Friday was no different.
The governor responded to a final question by Steven Allen Adams, a reporter for the Ogden newspapers, about the pace of spending federal CARES Act funding by taking exception to criticism by Salango and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Justice called Salango “a young guy who doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.”
And he said Manchin”is trying to perpetuate Salango’s gubernatorial campaign.”
During Salango’s press conference, the commissioner contended the state’s coronavirus confirmations are being suppressed, pointing to a discrepancy between what Kanawha County reports and what is reflected by the state.
“There’s no reason for there to be a delay in reporting accurate information to the public,” he said.
When reporter Mark Curtis of WOWK asked the governor about that charge, Justice acknowledged differences between the numbers but then focused on Salango: “My political opponent is looking at just grabbing at straws.”
Justice did not debate his closest Primary Election opponents, former Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and former Delegate Mike Folk.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” the governor said this past spring.
In 2016, Justice ran as a Democrat, debating his Primary opponents that year once. He twice debated the Republican challenger in the General Election, former state Senate President Bill Cole.
“Bill Cole lost the debate. He’s lost us in a lot of ways for the last two years,” Justice told reporters after the first debate. “We’re struggling, guys. That’s just all there is to it.”
Today, Justice as governor said he needs to be able to focus on West Virginia’s response to a pandemic as well as major economic challenges.
“I wish to God above we would stop this crazy politics stuff,” Justice said in his briefing. “It’s not good for us. It’s not healthy for us.”