In a news conference called Monday to denounce former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $500 million pledge to an initiative to fight climate change, Gov. Jim Justice went off on multiple tangents, including his feud with West Virginia Senate Republicans, his thoughts on education reform and legal issues involving his private businesses.
In his first public comments since Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, ran campaign ads in local newspapers calling Justice “an embarrassment to our state,” and calling for his resignation, Justice said, “Craig Blair is a bully. That’s all there is to it.”
The governor said Blair’s call for his resignation is “ridiculous” and said of Senate GOP leaders, “I think they’ve dug themselves a hole, and I’m not going to help them dig.”
Justice criticized Senate leaders for blindsiding him with introduction of the failed omnibus education bill during the regular session and for introducing an education savings accounts bill in special session, after indicating to him it was off the table.
“They never, even one time, talked to the governor about it,” he said of the original omnibus bill.
Justice’s feud with Blair and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, heated up on June 2, when the governor left a Senate Republican caucus and complained to gathered reporters and teachers that the Senate was wasting taxpayer money by taking a second crack at an omnibus education bill that would, among many other things, legalize charter schools in West Virginia.
“I hate like crazy that we’re spending taxpayer dollars, and we’re not going anywhere,” Justice reiterated Monday. “We’re going to send them right over to the House, and there’s no way it’s going to go anywhere.”
Justice added of provisions of the omnibus bill, including barring extracurricular activities on days of work stoppages, “Why would we be hitting back at the unions at the sacrifice of our kids?”
He said U.S. Education Secretary Betty DeVos told him West Virginia public schools are ranked 38th in the nation, a number he put in context of the opioid drug epidemic, years of poverty and federal underfunding for public education.
“I would say we want to be sixth, but 38th, considering the obstacles, you’d have to say there’s a bunch of good stuff going on in our schools,” Justice said.
At one point last week as part of the feud, Senate leaders preemptively released positive state revenue collection figures for May. The governor said Monday of that move, “It’s just petty stuff. It’s just petty.”
Justice called the news conference, and gathered coal and natural gas industry representatives, to denounce Bloomberg’s pledge of $500 million to the Beyond Carbon initiative, an effort to close all remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030 and to ultimately have a 100 percent clean-energy economy.
“This single-handedly destroys West Virginia,” Justice said of the initiative, while alternatively denouncing Bloomberg as a “New York liberal” and a “bubbleboy.”
“$500 million in the right spots, the right ads, the right election opportunities and, before you know it, we could be a memory,” said Justice, whose remarks focused entirely on the potential economic impact to the state of reducing national reliance on coal and natural gas for energy production.
Asked about Beyond Carbon as a climate change initiative, Justice questioned if climate change is even real — the vast majority of the world’s scientists and governments agree that it is — while arguing that it is fruitless to eliminate coal-fired power plants in the United States if countries like China don’t cut emissions as well.
“Do I believe if we don’t act on climate change today that, in 12 years, the planet is going to implode? Are you kidding me? Really?” Justice commented.
In a separate statement, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was also critical of Bloomberg’s $500 million pledge to the Beyond Carbon initiative, stating, “his pledge to shut down U.S. coal plants by 2030 will only serve to hurt coal miners and their families, as well as further devastate West Virginia communities that are suffering from the downturn in coal production, and does nothing to address the global nature of the climate crisis.”
Manchin said he would hope Bloomberg would invest equally in development of carbon capture and other so-called clean coal technologies to fight climate change.
Also Monday, Justice:
- Downplayed seemingly daily headlines involving some of his myriad businesses failing to pay bills, taxes or fines.
“Our businesses are doing really good. Things are getting paid,” he said, reiterating that, during a downturn in coal markets, his coal companies did not file for bankruptcy, like many coal operators.
He compared a recent settlement to pay $1.23 million in fines to being assessed $5,000 for a $100 speeding ticket that you thought you had paid.
Justice also encouraged the news media to focus on his accomplishments as governor, saying, “Don’t worry about my stuff. Don’t worry about my businesses.”
- Invoked President Donald Trump’s name at several points, at one point noting, “Donald Trump and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder, bound at the hip.”
“Donald Trump and I believe we’re going this way,” Justice said. “I don’t want to see our Republican Party, and all the goodness and gains we’ve made, thrown away because we’re going in the wrong direction.”