On the face of it, the Greenbrier County Board of Education did the rational thing in rejecting Jim Justice’s application to become the head boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School.
Putting aside Justice’s title and influence, the facts are undisputed: Applicant has a full-time job in Charleston, manages private businesses on the side and already coaches the girls varsity basketball team. Applicant has indicated he will be unable to attend most team practices and would let his assistants run the team, showing up on the sidelines for game days.
(Imagine having a job interview for a management position and saying you don’t plan to show up for work often and will let the assistants run the place.)
Obviously, if the applicant were Joe Schmoe, even if Joe Schmoe had a stellar record coaching high school basketball, it would be logical for the school board to conclude this particular applicant has too many irons in the fire and would not unable to give a full effort to the job.
Naturally, being the narcissist he is, Justice could not comprehend that a panel not only would conclude he is not the best applicant but would utterly fail to recognize he alone is the only one capable of coaching the team successfully.
Justice said as much when he used what is supposed to be a statewide COVID-19 briefing to air his grievances with the school board, saying two of the three board members who voted against his hiring are, in his words, “vile.”
The ever-litigious Justice hinted the board’s decision will not be the final word on the matter. Remarkably, as one who has rarely seen an ethics rule or constitutional mandate he couldn’t flout, Justice made vague allusions that the board’s action constituted a violation of state personnel laws.
Likewise, Justice has deluded himself into believing he is doing such an exemplary job as governor that he is well suited to take on a second part-time basketball coaching position, while continuing to oversee his myriad and struggling businesses, telling reporters, “What have I missed? Tell me one thing I missed.”
That statement that seemed particularly absurd in the context of the COVID-19 briefings, where Justice has remained impotent to act in the face of a delta variant surge that has resulted in tenfold increases in active cases, hospitalizations and intensive care cases in slightly more than a month.
I suspect Justice is afraid of alienating anti-mask, anti-vax legislators such as Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, who published a column stating that, remarkably, he will oppose such measures until such time as the death rate from COVID-19 reaches 15%. (In other words, until 25,000 West Virginians are dead from COVID-19.)
Justice, doubtless, has deluded himself into believing that if he does not alienate those hard-core anti-mask delegates, he can keep prospects alive for passage of his income tax cut/consumption tax hike bill. You remember, the one that died in the House of Delegates on an unprecedented 0-100 rejection vote.
This is the same governor who recently reached the absurd conclusion that the reason West Virginia has hemorrhaged population is because of the state income tax — even though tax rates have not changed since 1987 and state population grew in the 1990s and 2000s.
Meanwhile, though you would think West Virginia would be looking for any opportunity to attract new residents, Justice also was unenthusiastic about welcoming Afghan refugees to the state, as opposed to his counterparts in Maryland, Virginia and other states, which are extending a warm welcome to the refugees.
When the subject was raised at a recent briefing, Justice prattled on about Americans first, and said, “If you think that’s selfish, well, you just think it’s selfish.”
While its presumptuous to assume that Afghan refugees would have any interest in settling in West Virginia, Justice’s attitude belies one of the state’s major problems in attracting and retaining population, that it has open arms for white Christian conservatives only.
Instead of taking rational public health measures to address the COVID-19 surge, Justice has opted to double down with a second round of his spectacularly unsuccessful “Babydog” vaccination incentive sweepstakes at an additional cost to taxpayers of $6 million to $8 million.
I was reading the fine print of Justice’s taxpayer-funded game show sweepstakes to see if I would actually have to give up a blissful life of bachelorhood if I win the $150,000 dream wedding.
Turns out the dream weddings and the 10 years of free gasoline prizes are to be awarded as one-time cash payments, so evidently, no.
The fine print also shows the extent to which the Babydog sweepstakes is mostly an ego trip for Justice, as opposed to a legitimate effort to encourage the vaccine hesitant to get their shots:
“Acceptance of the prize constitutes express permission for the State of West Virginia and its agencies to use the prize winner’s name and/or likeness worldwide, in perpetuity, for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, notification or permission unless prohibited by law, in any and all media known or hereafter devised.”
In other words, if you win a major prize, to accept it, you must agree to let Justice play game show host and let yourself be photographed and videotaped as Big Jim surprises you at your workplace, local restaurant or other public location with a giant, dog bone-shaped check.
State law allows major state Lottery prizewinners to remain anonymous.
In the 2018 session, most legislators concluded Lottery winners have a right to be left alone, without distance relatives, entrepreneurs and conmen hounding them for cash.
You can make a very tenuous argument that seeing people win prizes might incent others to get their shots, but that benefit could be achieved without having Justice fly all over the state at taxpayer expense to personally present the prizes.
It also does not explain the need to fly around the state to present the final week of prizes, since the sweepstakes will be closed at that point.
Justice’s own data to support his claims of the sweepstakes’ effectiveness shows vaccination rates decreased during the first $10 million taxpayer-funded vaccination incentive sweepstakes.
Likewise, a Boston University School of Medicine study of Ohio’s vaccination incentive sweepstakes (with five $1 million prizes), concluded that initial reports of a spike in vaccinations were erroneous, with officials having failed to factor in that when the sweepstakes launched, the federal Food and Drug Administration had just expanded authorization of the Pfizer vaccine to include 12- to 15-year-olds.
The study concluded that, once those vaccinations were factored out, the rate of decline in vaccination rates in Ohio was consistent with the U.S. rate of decline, indicating the sweepstakes had not significantly incentivized Ohioans to get their shots.
As Dr. Allan J. Walkey, BU professor of medicine, physician and senior author of the study, told Just The News, “Our results suggest that state-based lotteries are of limited value in increasing vaccine uptake. Therefore, the resources devoted to vaccine lotteries may be more successfully invested in programs that target underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake.”
(The Ohio vaccination sweepstakes was the impetus for Justice to launch a larger, grander, more costly sweepstakes in West Virginia, saying, “We’re not going to let a state like Ohio get ahead of us. They’ve never been ahead of us.”)
As far as I’ve been able to determine in reviewing news coverage of the first round of sweepstakes winners, none indicated they got vaccinated to be eligible for the sweepstakes.
Those who described when they’d been vaccinated said they’d gotten their shots in March or April, long before the sweepstakes was announced. Most winners didn’t specify when they were vaccinated, and that information was not offered in the governor’s press releases.
The selection of sweepstakes prizes also suggests a lack of thought. As I’ve noted, the first round of prizes seemed to be selected with the intent of perpetuating West Virginia stereotypes, with oversized pickup trucks, rifles and shotguns and hunting and fishing licenses. This time around, Justice and company added ATVs, probably an unintended omission from the original sweepstakes.
If Justice’s stated intent is to incentivize the 12- to 30-year-old age group, currently running at just a 40% vaccination rate, the prize choices were particularly odd. Fishing boats? Zero-turn riding lawn mowers? I’m a long way removed from my under-30 days, but are these really attractive prizes to young people?
I suspect the time has come to switch from the carrot to the stick to spur the unvaxxed to get their shots. Delta Air Lines management seems to have hit on the perfect approach.
Delta isn’t mandating its employees get vaccinated, but those who do not will have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, wear facemasks while working indoors, forgo paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19 and pay an additional $200 a month for health insurance to help offset costs of treating an otherwise preventable illness.
On the day the policy was announced, employee vaccinations jumped fivefold.
The unfortunately named airline has come up with a sensible, workable policy to incentivize vaccinations, one the governor and public- and private-sector employers would do well to emulate.