Governor Jim Justice hates politics, and he frequently makes that point clear. Justice sees the dark side of politics—the hypocrisy, below-the-belt shots, unscrupulous deal-making.
He has found that presenting himself as the anti-politician works in his favor. After all, he has won election twice as Governor—once as a Democrat and once as a Republican.
However, Justice would be well served to understand that while he may not see himself as a politician, he still operates in a political arena.
Take for example his comments last week during virtual town hall meetings where he pitched his plan to reduce and eventually eliminate the state income tax. Justice laid the groundwork of his proposal by throwing previous legislative policies under the bus.
“Really and truly, let’s just be brutally honest,” Justice told the virtual town hall audience. “We passed the right-to-work law in West Virginia, and we ran to the windows looking to see all the people that were going to come—and they didn’t come. We got rid of prevailing wage. We changed our corporate taxes and we’ve done different things. And we’ve run to the windows and they haven’t come.”
Remember, right-to-work and repealing prevailing wage were Republican priorities, and Republicans supported then-Governor Joe Manchin’s move to lower the corporate income tax and eliminate the business franchise tax.
Justice’s plan for getting rid of the state income tax needs the backing of a majority of Republicans in the Legislature. Does it make sense for the Governor to poke them in the eye on their economic plans and then expect them to embrace his proposal?
It is a tactical mistake for Justice to discredit previous business tax cuts as having no impact on the state’s economy, but then expect buy-in on his tax cut plan. “Watch and see what happens,” Justice said. “People will come from far and near.”
Justice believes that, but what is more important is whether majorities in the House and Senate believe it and whether West Virginians believe it. We are naturally skeptical when a political leader’s pitch is tantamount to, “None of that worked, but this will. Trust me!”
Politics is not a dirty word. It is the science and art of developing public policy. Without politics there would be no democracy, no representative government. Yes, politics has a dirty underbelly, but it is also a functional tool for achieving an end.
Governor Justice believes strongly in the power of his words and his deeds. Make no mistake, they count for a lot. However, he often fails to understand the environment in which he is operating.
The Legislature is a separate and equal branch. Justice’s sweeping proposal to eliminate over $2-billion in tax collections annually, while raising taxes in other areas to make up the difference, needs strong voices of support in the House and Senate if there is any chance for it to pass.
Justice may not like the path he must travel to achieve the desired end, but that’s just politics.