About 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, state Senator Randy Smith had a polite letter delivered to Gov. Jim Justice, suggesting it would be best for the governor to resign.
By 4:13 p.m., Smith received a response in his email. The letter signed by the governor didn’t address the issues Smith had raised. Instead, it suggested Smith was nursing a grudge that his grown son, R. Scott Smith, had not been named earlier this year to the board of the West Virginia Economic Development Agency.
Now Smith, R-Tucker, is beside himself with anger.
“I was expecting retaliation but nothing like this. I never thought he would stoop low enough to try to drag my family into it,” Smith said today.
Smith’s prior complaints about the governor are in three categories.
He is among lawmakers who contend the governor should not have had the sole say-so on priorities for spending millions of dollars of federal relief during the pandemic. And Smith has objected to the current use of federal relief dollars for the vaccination lottery prizes distributed each week by the governor.
Most recently, Smith has focused Justice’s financial issues, particularly IRS liens against prominent businesses owned by the governor. The liens indicate the IRS has concluded payroll taxes were collected but not passed on by entities such as The Greenbrier Hotel Corp. and The Greenbrier Clinic.
Smith, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said his constituents have expressed concern about those issues too.
“I just wrote a letter and sent it to him, asking him to consider resigning because of all the stuff going on in his personal life and he wasn’t able to put the state of West Virginia as his top priority,” Smith said today. ” I didn’t get smart or anything. I just asked him to consider resigning.”
Smith wrote, “With headlines appearing nearly every day outlining massive, widespread legal and financial problems encumbering nearly every single business entity of yours, I find myself very concerned that you no longer have the ability to give being governor your full attention. I don’t believe anybody in your situation could.
“Therefore, I am respectfully asking you to consider resigning as governor of the great state of West Virginia. While I appreciate your service and your vision for making West Virginia the best it can be, I do not believe it’s possible to achieve the best for every single man, woman and child in this state if we do not have a governor who can fully focus on tackling our challenges.”
Smith anticipated the governor wouldn’t be happy about his letter. But he was surprised to see the response focus on his son’s consideration for appointment to the state Economic Development Authority board earlier this year.
“I felt it was a very unprofessional letter coming from the governor. I figured there would be some kind of pushback because I’ve always been very vocal on issues with the governor,” Smith said.
R. Scott Smith was considered for the state Economic Development Authority but not selected. Randy Smith says his only role was to discourage his son from having any role in the Justice administration.
Scott Smith said today that earlier this spring his personal financial adviser was asked to brainstorm some people who might be good fits for the EDA board. Smith, chief executive of an industrial electrical company headquartered in Terra Alta and doing business in a multi-state region, came up as a suggestion.
Smith said he brought up concern about whether his father’s position in the Senate would pose any kind of conflict, but he continued through early stages of the process, lasting just a few days in March. “That was the last I heard,” he said.
Then came the letter from the Governor’s Office suggesting the non-appointment is at the root of Randy Smith’s criticism.
“It has been brought to my attention that you may harbor some bitterness toward me for not appointing your son to the WVEDA board,” according to the letter with Governor Justice’s signature.
The letter touted the current makeup of the EDA, noted that the governor has to make hard decisions and alluded to successes in handling the pandemic.
But, the letter concluded, “I hope and trust that the decision to appoint others to the EDA board, rather than your son, will not interfere in our working together over the coming years to make our state the best it can possibly be.”
Randy Smith has been a vocal critic of Governor Justice for several years, notably upset about the governor’s handling of road repairs in 2019 and then joining other senators in publicly expressing no confidence in the governor that same year.
This past June 7, during a special session focused on allocating millions of dollars for road repairs before the end of the fiscal year, Smith got up and made a floor speech with a blitz of criticism about the governor. At the top of the list was Justice’s Wednesday trips around the state to bestow vaccination lottery prizes.
“All of a sudden he thinks he’s a gameshow host or something, Bob Barker or Pat Sajak, spending the CARES money on lotteries and giving out gifts for the vaccine,” Smith said.
Smith’s speech continued by saying the Senate should push back. “It upsets me that we haven’t done anything to rein this governor in,” he said.
“We cannot continue to let this go on for three more years and let him be the bully on the block. We shouldn’t be getting bullied, shouldn’t be getting threatened. My district after this speech will probably never see a dime.”
Smith today said the drama over the letter is just the latest.
“I know he was hoping by this letter that I would back down,” the senator said. “This is a statement to me that if you don’t back down, I’m going to drag your family into this.”
Smith concluded, “I’m not going to let it go. I’m not going to back down. He’s opened up a can of worms that he’s going to wish he wouldn’t have opened up before it’s all over with. It’s very unprofessional, very unprofessional from a governor.”