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One of our first introductions to Jim Justice was a 2016 campaign commercial featuring a police video of a traffic stop of Justice. The gist of the ad was to show Justice was incredulous that the police officer dare think the law should apply to him, Jim freaking Justice.

Thus, when Justice became governor, he simply ignored the constitutional mandate that the governor must reside in Charleston, believing himself to be above the law.

When Isaac Sponaugle took him to court over the matter, Justice agreed to settle the case, paid Sponaugle $65,000 (actually, the taxpayers paid Sponaugle $65,000), and then, as the Gazette-Mail’s Joe Severino reported, has simply ignored the terms of the settlement and proceeded to continue to live in Lewisburg, commuting to and from Charleston on those days when his gubernatorial duties necessitate a visit to the Capitol.

Likewise, whereas all other governors in the post-Ethics Act era have placed their assets in a blind trust upon taking office, Justice did not, despite initially promising that he would.

Asked during his COVID briefing Tuesday whether financial institutions such as Greensill and Carter Bank were reluctant to sign off on a blind trust, given that he has personally guaranteed loans from them in excess of $1 billion, Justice gave a typically Justice-like ramble, going on about how he isn’t running his businesses but if his kids call for business advice, he gives it to them.

Most recently, when Justice announced a vaccination incentive sweepstakes featuring weekly giveaways of custom pick-up trucks, rifles and shotguns, I started monitoring wvOasis and the Purchasing Division website, expecting the state to put contracts out to bid for vendors to supply the vehicles and firearms.

(If my math is right, giving away two trucks, five rifles and five shotguns a week for seven weeks amounts to 14 trucks, 35 rifles and 35 shotguns, amounting to substantial purchases by the state.)

Asked about the lack of requests for bids for the sweepstakes prizes, Justice on Tuesday said the governor’s office is using emergency exemptions to state purchasing laws, legally permitted during states of emergency.

The potential for abuse was obvious even to Justice, who said, “We’re surely not doing it with our friends and trying to pad someone’s pocket, because that’s the last thing in the world I want to do.”

As always, Justice is operating on the presumption the laws do not apply to him.

There is a state of emergency exemption in state purchasing laws, but State Code (5A-3-3C) clearly strictly restricts those exemptions, “ so long as the contract is directly and solely related to the recovery from the declared state of emergency.”

The law goes on to state: “For purposes of this section, ‘directly and solely related’ means that the goods or services being purchased or contracted for will be used for recovery from the state of emergency only, and will not be used for any other purpose.”

Buying prizes for a sweepstakes strictly driven by Justice’s desire for self-aggrandizement, since other governors were getting more publicity than him for offering their own vaccination sweepstakes, doesn’t seem “directly and solely related” to addressing the state of emergency, although that will be up to the courts, the auditor’s office or federal auditors to determine.

At any rate, putting someone who is so severely compromised financially in charge of no-bid contracts is a matter worthy of extra scrutiny.

It’s also notable that there has been no spike in vaccination rates since Justice announced the sweepstakes May 27. Since then, there have been only two days when the state administered more than 2,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine (June 3 and 4) and the daily average has dropped below 1,000 since June 12.

Over the past five days, when you would think sweepstakes frenzy would be peaking, the state averaged only 660 doses a day. (The state average peaked at more than 10,000 doses a day in the first week of March.)

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as of Wednesday, West Virginia has dropped to 42nd in the U.S. for percentage of population fully vaccinated.

Way to go, Babydog.


I’ve covered the state Educational Broadcasting Authority for ages. (Back in the day, former Charleston Gazette Publisher Betty Chilton had a fondness for Public Broadcasting and wanted the authority covered, and I drew the short straw on the assignment.)

In all those years, I’ve never once heard any authority member attempt to influence West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s radio or TV programming or news coverage, including its hallmark news program, The Legislature Today.

With Justice in the process of stacking the authority with right-wingers, I’m afraid that neutrality will be lost.

Justice, through circumstances he happened to stumble onto, is in a position to replace all seven appointed members of the 11-member authority and as of my early Friday deadline for this column, he has made three appointments:

State Republican political operative Greg Thomas, who frequently works for ex-coal baron Don Blankenship, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist and lawyer Danielle Waltz, whose legislative lobbying victories include passage of an anti-union right-to-work law and creation of an intermediate appeals court sought by big business. The latest appointee, Ron Hughes, works for the Pikewood Media Group, better known by its trade name, the MetroNews radio network.

MetroNews, of course, is owned by John Raese, an outspoken and frequent (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for statewide public office, and a former state GOP chairman.

Asked Thursday about his stacking of the authority, Justice absurdly talked about “diversity,” an indication he doesn’t understand what the word actually means, and “balance.”

Justice, who once tried to defund Public Broadcasting in his budget bill, has never quite comprehended that Public Broadcasting functions, in part, as a newsgathering organization and not as a branch of his taxpayer-funded public relations enterprises.

Clearly, the Thomas appointment is the most controversial, given his career as a partisan political operative.

As a reader pointed out, Thomas has frequently criticized Public Broadcasting on social media.

One example, when Public Broadcasting’s news division produced a report on global warming and flooding in West Virginia, Thomas tweeted: “@wvpublicnews the liberals never miss an opportunity to advance their globalist anti-WV agenda.”

How long do you think it will be before Thomas and company intervene in Public Broadcasting’s programming and news coverage?

I haven’t watched local commercial TV news in years, but when I did, the legislative coverage was uniformly abysmal. For many West Virginians, The Legislature Today is their only access to comprehensive legislative coverage, and it would be a shame if that coverage were to be tainted.


Finally, after Major League Baseball revoked its affiliation with the West Virginia Power (an expulsion I contend was punishment for the state Legislature’s failure to incorporate “integrity fee” payments to the MLB in its precedent-setting sports betting legislation), I was skeptical when it was announced that the Power would be joining the independent Atlantic League.

My only experience with independent ball came a few years back, when headed to Pittsburgh for a week of Pirates games, I stopped in Washington, Pennsylvania, to catch a Wild Things game. Although the Frontier League team billed itself as equivalent to Class AA or Class AAA ball, the caliber of play was clearly below the Class A South Atlantic League.

(Which makes sense, given that most players in the Frontier League either were undrafted, or washed out of the minors at Rookie or Class A levels.)

What I didn’t realize is that, like the minors, there are different classifications of independent leagues, and the Atlantic League is one of the two premier independent leagues.

The Power roster, at last count, includes 10 former big-leaguers, and most of the team has played in the upper levels of the minor leagues — and it shows in the caliber of play.

After years of watching teams perpetually made up of 18- to 22-year-olds with, at best, a year or two of professional experience, the on-field product in the Atlantic League is vastly superior and much more fun to watch.

When minor league baseball returned to Charleston in 1987 after a three-year absence, I know many fans considered low A ball to be a letdown after the city had hosted Class AAA ball for many years, providing the opportunity to see many players with major league experience.

Being in the Atlantic League is as close as Charleston can come to replicating its Class AAA heyday — which is another reason the team should rebrand itself as the Charleston Charlies.

(West Virginia Power, the team moniker since 2005, has never been a good fit, named for the state, not the city, and incorporating a not particularly marketable nickname alluding to the region’s historic past as a producer of fossil fuels.)

Meanwhile, with longtime minor league baseball executive and consultant Chuck Domino as the new team president, the fan game day experience at Power Park is much improved. Domino has a reputation for taking struggling franchises and boosting attendance with fan-friendly entertainment, as he did most recently with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a team that plays in an antiquated ballpark located in not the best part of town.

Not only is baseball back in Charleston, it’s better than before.

The question is, how long it will stay.

As an independent league team, there’s no parent club to pay players’ salaries on those days when the game is rained out or when turnout is sparse. The team survives by making the turnstiles spin.

Of the six original Atlantic League teams from 1998, only one franchise still exists, the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots, and they were scooped up as an MLB affiliate in the 2020 restructuring.

As Gazette-Mail Sports Editor Nick Scala noted, the team’s initial attendance numbers as an Atlantic League affiliate have not been good, but that might be attributable to consistently terrible weather so far this season.

I’ve always likened Power Park to being Charleston’s proverbial front porch, a nice amenity for the city, where people can gather, hang out and socialize.

Charleston has been given a reprieve by the baseball gods, but if this amenity is to stay in Charleston for the long term, it’s going to need support from the public.

Reach Phil Kabler at,

304 348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

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