CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The United Mine Workers of America endorsed Jim Justice’s first campaign for governor almost five years ago.
The union on Tuesday announced it will be supporting Justice’s opponent, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, in this year’s general election.
The UMWA’s West Virginia Council of the Coal Miners Political Action Committee unanimously voted this week to back Salango, the Democratic candidate, over Justice, who is seeking his second term in office and his first general election victory as a Republican.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts explained the previous Justice endorsement during a press conference, noting Justice’s opponent at the time, then-Senate President Bill Cole.
“In 2016, Gov. Justice was running against a Republican that we felt we could not have as governor of West Virginia,” he explained. “Had Gov. Justice been running against Ben Salango, we would have endorsed Ben Salango because we would have felt as we do now that Ben Salango will make a better governor than the current governor that we have.”
The West Virginia Coal Association backed Cole in his 2016 run for office. Justice was seeking office as a Democrat and would join the Republican Party in August 2017.
Justice and his family owns multiple coal companies, which owe money for environmental and safety violations.
Salango said he was humbled to receive the union’s endorsement.
“Our brave mine workers have risked everything to power our country and provide for our families, all while leading the charge for safer working conditions,” he said. “As governor, I will fight side-by-side with the UMWA to protect coal mining jobs and keep coal mines safe.”
AFT-West Virginia announced last month its support for Salango; the education union, like the UMWA, endorsed Justice in the 2016 election cycle.
The UMWA also announced Tuesday its endorsement of Sam Petsonk in this year’s attorney general contest. Petsonk is challenging Republican incumbent Patrick Morrisey. The coal miner union in March endorsed U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., in their re-election bids.