Charleston Gazette-Mail. January 12, 2024.
Editorial: Has Justice been there for West Virginia?
How fitting it was, in an ironic sense, that the first topic Gov. Jim Justice explored during his final State of the State address (after the obligatory 20 minutes of glad-handing) was centered on being present in order to serve.
In his two terms in office, Justice has been a notorious absentee, part-time governor, commuting from his home in Greenbrier County whenever he has to be in Charleston (while defying a court settlement to live in the capital city as the West Virginia Constitution requires). He still appears to have a hand in his multiple business interests and continues to coach a high school girls’ basketball team, despite being the state’s top executive, which should demand most, if not all, of Justice’s time.
“There’s no substitute for being there,” Justice said without a hint of self-awareness. “Always giving your best.”
He made a vague and tangled sequence of statements that might have been an attempt to say governors who live at the Governor’s Mansion host parties instead of doing important work, but that wasn’t exactly clear. He then went on to boast that he’d totaled up odometer readings on multiple vehicles he’s been through while governor, saying it approaches 1 million miles spent traversing the state “on my dime.”
It’s hard to take claimed odometer readings or the idea that Justice pays for all his travel seriously, given his nearly unprecedented lack of transparency and the governor’s seemingly endless list of legal and financial troubles involving his businesses (not to mention his reputation for avoiding, at all costs, payments on fines, fees, debts and legal settlements that total somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars).
Justice could argue that “being there” means meeting people where they are, instead of at the Capitol. He could say he’s been talking to real folks about real problems and rolling up his proverbial sleeves to address those issues. But it wouldn’t be honest.
Justice is affable and popular. And he has “been there” for a lot of things that help build that popularity. He likes ribbon-cuttings, presenting residents with luxurious prizes for getting the COVID vaccine and handing out checks for new, splashy projects. Even then, though, there’s always a question of whether things are on the level.
Vaccination prizes in the form of new trucks left “winners” with huge property tax bills and sparked a federal investigation into whether the value of those prizes was overinflated. The $13 million or so check Justice handed to Marshall University for a new baseball stadium appears to have drawn from federal COVID money that was supposed to go to the state’s ailing corrections system, and Justice’s colleagues in the Legislature have asked the feds to look into it.
Justice likes being the face of the state when the news is good and there are few questions. That’s not a crime. But there have been major problems in public and higher education, the state’s foster care system, the Department of Health and Human Resources, PEIA and the West Virginia State Police, to name only a few, on Justice’s watch, and, every time, it seems like it’s news to him. Sometimes, he’ll promise some sweeping reforms, but then seems to just hope that everything dies down while nothing gets done.
It could be argued good things that have happened in West Virginia in recent years have come in spite of Justice, not because of him.
Justice’s approach is surface-level and scatter-shot. He’s a good politician. That doesn’t equate to being a good public servant who actually does show up to do the job.
The Intelligencer. January 13, 2024.
Editorial: Justice Speech Failed To Focus on W.Va.’s Future
Gov. Jim Justice filed his official candidacy paperwork for the 2024 Republican primary for U.S. Senate on the same day he gave his last State of the State address. He then spent much of his speech telling West Virginians what he’s done for them lately, and little time on what he plans to do in the coming months.
“We climbed that mountain together. We pulled the rope together every step of the way, and the view at the top is breathtaking,” Justice said of West Virginia’s current circumstances.
It will be up to ordinary West Virginians to decide whether they feel as though they are at the top of a mountain with a breathtaking view, or still facing the same socio-economic challenges with which they’ve been struggling.
In the meantime, lawmakers will have to carefully parse the budget bill for fiscal year 2025 they were handed Wednesday. Highlights given by Justice sound promising, but the devil is in the details and some of those details don’t feel much like minding the store properly in a fiscal year when all that flowing federal money we’ve gotten since 2020 will be turned off.
In his speech, Justice said “my administration does not believe in growing government.” But a few of his budget proposals could end up doing just that, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam. He flagged some as having the potential for “base-building.”
It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether, after years of flat budgets, we are ready to grow the base. Is the ship finally righted? Is it time to put the fruits of all that labor to work? They’ll have to make that call based on what best serves Mountain State residents and what is the best use of their tax dollars.
“I believe that God always shows up. I believe in my life that what we all … should be doing is making things better,” Justice said. “You can do so much for this great state, it’s unbelievable.”
It’s true, lawmakers can do it, if they get their priorities in order, and if they decide not to go back to the kick-the-financial-can-down-the-road mentality they vowed to eradicate.
Will that look like Justice’s grand vision? We’ll find out over the next eight weeks.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel. January 12, 2024.
Editorial: Families: Rankings show need for legislative progress
West Virginians often take pride in their families, and the roots they have in the Mountain State. Many of us look back fondly on wonderful childhoods here. But perhaps the picture is not as rosy as we remember.
According to WalletHub’s “Best and Worst States to Raise a Family (2024),” West Virginia ranks 48th. Only Mississippi and New Mexico are worse places to raise a family, according to the report.
“It’s crucial to consider economic factors when deciding where to raise a family, like the job market, average income and housing costs,” said WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe. “It’s also important to look beyond dollars and cents, as things like low-quality schools, a bad healthcare system, natural disasters, or a high crime rate can turn the already-stressful process of parenting into a nightmare.”
Here, we rank 50th for family fun, 28th for health and safety, 44th for education and child care, 42nd for affordability, and 32nd for socioeconomics. It’s a pretty bleak picture. West Virginia is 49th for median family income, 50th for the number of families with young kids, and 47th for the number of families in poverty.
To be fair, that 50th ranking may say more about what the researchers consider family fun than what we do here in West Virginia. Outdoor recreational opportunities abound.
But on crucial matters such as health, education and poverty, policymakers have a lot of work to do.
Voters, take a look at what your representatives in Charleston prioritized by introducing on the first day of the 2024 Regular Legislative Session.
Lawmakers must not miss the opportunity to focus not on the bizarre and backward-looking sociocultural bills to which some of them seem to cling, but on change that will truly lift all West Virginians. Better still, change that will make more families want to consider moving and growing here.
Certainly, the picture painted by the numbers used in WalletHub’s report, combined with the frightening efforts of some lawmakers will continue to repel those who might want to visit or live in West Virginia. The rest of us must make those lawmakers understand we will not stand by and let it happen.