Since I have no earthly idea how video streaming services work, and am too cheap to pay for them if I did, I miss out on a lot of the popular new TV series.
However, when I was home for vacation, I did have the opportunity to binge-watch the first season of the pop culture phenomenon “Ted Lasso.”
Ted Lasso’s folksy optimism and can-do spirit took America by storm as the perfect antidote to four years of antagonism and cruelty for cruelty’s sake under Donald Trump.
As the plot goes, Lasso is hired to coach an English Premier League soccer team after winning a Division II national championship in American collegiate football.
Despite all his optimism, Lasso is also a realist. He realizes he knows next to nothing about soccer and suspects there may be nefarious reasons for his hiring. (There are.) He realizes his upbeat, positive attitude doesn’t always persevere, in that it couldn’t save his recently failed marriage.
In West Virginia, we have a Ted Lasso of sorts in Jim Justice, but where Lasso is folksy and optimistic, Justice is folksy and delusional.
Whereas Lasso realizes he is vastly under-qualified to coach English professional soccer and proceeds to immerse himself in learning the finer details of the sport, Justice came into office vastly under-qualified to serve as governor but has never taken much interest in learning the nuances of governing and running the state.
Whereas Lasso knows what he doesn’t know, Justice has deluded himself into believing he is eminently qualified and highly successful as governor.
A good example came last week when he touted his $10 million vaccination incentive sweepstakes, saying during his Monday briefing, “I don’t know how in the world we could say anything but, tremendous campaign, very, very successful.”
(Justice, who cannot accept criticism, took offense to a newspaper article that asserted the $10 million effort had failed to noticeably improve state vaccination rates.)
Justice’s level of delusion is such that the graphic he used at the briefing to supposedly support his claim disproved it.
It showed that before Justice announced the sweepstakes in late May, 900,000 West Virginians had received at least one dose of vaccine, and since the announcement, 180,000 additional West Virginians have gotten at least one shot.
Given that the first vaccinations were administered in mid-December, we could generously say the 900,000 were vaccinated over a period of five-and-a-half months, an average of 163,636 a month.
Even shortening to two months the time span since the “Babydog” sweepstakes announcement, that’s an average of only 90,000 vaccinations a month.
In other words, Justice used data that proves his sweepstakes was a failure in an attempt to bolster his claim that it was a tremendous success. That’s delusional.
Also delusional is Justice’s belief that he has the job of governor so well under control that he can not only continue to oversee his struggling business interests (unlike other governors who placed their assets in blind trusts) but has enough free time to coach not one, but two high school basketball teams during legislative sessions.
That would essentially put Justice out of Charleston every weekday afternoon and evening during the legislative session.
Again, you have to admire Justice’s chutzpah. Facing criticism for being a part-time governor who is failing to comply with a constitutional mandate that he reside in Charleston, Justice doubles down with a proposal to spend even less time acting as governor and to spend even more time in his home county of Greenbrier.
Not that Justice’s absence would be a tremendous loss, since Justice’s legislative agendas have either been paper-thin or abysmal failures (including the possibly unprecedented 0-100 House of Delegates rebuff of his income tax plan).
And, of course, we remember Justice’s comically inept attempts to resolve budget impasses with the Legislature during his first two legislative sessions, and his bungling of negotiations during teachers’ walkouts in consecutive years.
More recently, Justice’s disengaged, detached, seat-of-the-pants governing style was on display when he announced he was joining other GOP governors in prematurely cutting off federal enhanced unemployment benefits (and all unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers), eliminating 12 weeks of $300-a-week benefits for some 45,000 West Virginians, knocking $150 million of federal support out of the state economy.
As with most of his decisions, we can presume Justice didn’t discuss options in depth. Having heard claims from unnamed small business owners who said they couldn’t fill job vacancies and buying into the tired GOP trope of lazy workers living off unemployment (“A lot, lot, lot of folks are scamming the system,” Justice claimed), Justice abruptly cut off benefits without giving much thought to the impact.
As the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy’s Sean O’Leary discovered, it didn’t send lazy workers back to their jobs. State employment decreased slightly after the announcement. It also didn’t noticeably affect state unemployment figures, with unemployment claims decreasing faster before the announcement than after it.
The number of West Virginians reporting difficulties in paying weekly household expenses spiked, from 24.6% of all adults before the cutoff to 33.8% after. Also, state sales tax collections plummeted $89.78 million in July from $175.75 million in June. Because sales taxes are remitted to the state a month after they are collected, that represents a downturn in June sales figures. While the cutoff didn’t go into effect until mid-month, Justice announced it in mid-May, almost certainly affecting consumer behavior for those losing their enhanced benefits.
Ted Lasso would never have made such a heartless, bone-headed move.
Ted Lasso also wouldn’t be so delusional as to think that after one season as a soccer coach, he had mastered all nuances of the game to such an extent he would have the luxury to expand into new employment opportunities, maybe as a bartender at the local pub.
Bottom line, Ted Lasso, the fictional character, is a realist and a genuinely good guy who wants those around him to be successful and happy.
Bottom line, Jim Justice, the part-time governor, part-time business magnate and part-time coach is a delusional person whose only interest is self-interest and for whom people are useful only to the extent they serve to benefit him.
On Friday, Justice talked about the dire implications of West Virginia’s shrinking population and the need to grow the state economy to offset the loss of nearly 60,000 people in the past 10 years. (For the record, West Virginia saw small population gains in both the 2000 and 2010 censuses (censi?) when the Ds were in charge.)
To that end, I’m not sure the latest hiring at the state Department of Economic Development will necessarily help the state turn the corner.
Former Senate president and current Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael tells me he has hired former Senate Minority Leader and former fitness chain owner Vic Sprouse as a broadband and economic development specialist.
Finally, speaking of the Senate, the dumbing down of the Legislature will likely accelerate with the pending departure of two of its brightest members, Sens. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, and John Unger, D-Berkeley.
Ihlenfeld, a West Virginia University law school grad, has been nominated to resume his position as U.S. attorney for Northern West Virginia after a four-year gap during the Great Unpleasantness, while Unger, one of WVU’s 25 Rhodes Scholars, is leaving to become a magistrate.
Both gentlemen have served their constituents well, and both have bristled under the hyperpartisanship of the Legislature under GOP control.
Unger in particular has had issues with Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, playing fast and loose with legislative and constitutional rules on the Senate floor.
Speaking of Unger, one thing I’ve come to discover in my years as a reporter is that very bright people frequently have difficulty detecting sarcasm.
Early on in his legislative career, I pegged the young Unger as a publicity hound, so when he would seek coverage for whatever issue was at hand, I would tell him that since he was a freshman legislator, Gazette policy was that I could only quote him twice during the legislative session, which I think he took to be gospel, carefully parsing out when he chose to be quoted.
Years later, he was pitching some volunteer project he was working on, telling me it would make a great human interest story.
My response: “Sorry, I’m not interested in humans.”