If you want to start a fight, just say that President Donald Trump has been good for our country, or for West Virginia. You could also say that he has been bad for West Virginia. You’ll get a fight either way.
The one thing he has done, however, is made us proud of our governor. For West Virginians, this is nothing to sneeze at. We are always near the bottom in all the good things (economy, educational attainment, etc.) and near the top in the bad things (obesity, smoking, governors who went to prison). It’s nice to have something we can be proud of.
Look at the way he does his coronavirus briefings. He usually starts off with an announcement of how many West Virginians have died. It’s a grim, but necessary place to start. The important thing about Gov. Jim Justice is that he genuinely cares that people have died. He always notes that these are not random strangers, statistics in the death toll. They are not numbers, making him look ineffective by increasing the body count on his watch. They are real human beings who had real lives and people who loved them. As far as I can tell, when Gov. Justice says he is sad that they died, he really means it.
He got off to a bit of a rough start with his briefings. His New York math problem (“if New York has 10 times more people than West Virginia and West Virginia is 10 days behind New York, how many days until a monster turns and eats Fairmont?” or something like that) left us all befuddled. He had an early briefing where he said, in a nutshell, that things are going to get really bad but we are not going to do anything.
For the most part, however, the briefings are useful. He brings some enthusiasm, a little encouragement and an announcement of decisions he has made. Then he shuts up and lets people who know what they are talking about take over.
Gov. Justice is plenty effusive on things that he knows something about. In these briefings, when he runs out of things that he knows something about, he does not sit there and ramble on, sounding more and more like a school boy giving a report on a book he has never read. He certainly does not blather on, speculating about quack cures, looking for someone he can blame for the virus or bragging about what a good job he has done so far. When he gets to the point that he is about to stop making sense, he stops talking.
If Gov. Justice has one great strength in all of this, it is his refusal to take credit for others’ contributions. Consider the exchange at a recent briefing. A reporter asked him if his experience as a basketball coach had taught him any lessons that he could use in confronting the coronavirus. It was a softball question, a perfect opportunity to pontificate about his great leadership, working toward a goal, inspiring people, blah, blah, blah — until the reporter and everybody else regretted the question.
Gov. Justice didn’t do that. Instead, he said the best coach in the world is not going to have a winning record unless he has good players. He said any success he has had in managing the coronavirus is because he has good players on his team. Has anybody heard anything like that coming out of Washington lately?
In no way, shape, form or fashion is Gov. Justice a great governor in every respect. History might look back on him as not even a very good governor. Even on the coronavirus, he might have just made a colossal blunder and opened the state back up too soon, before we had the testing and contact tracing capacity we need.
I also have not seen other governors. Maybe they have briefings that are just as helpful as those of Gov. Justice.
But for crying out loud, when it comes to coronavirus briefings, is there anybody in West Virginia who would swap our governor for the hot mess giving briefings at the White House? Compared to that, Gov. Justice is a gem.