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Teacher rally

Teachers demonstrate at the Capitol on Feb. 16.

There’s a proverb that, if a cowboy says something but can’t back it up, people say he’s “all hat, no cattle.”

Not sure what Jim Justice’s hat size is, but there wasn’t a cow in sight at the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday.

Instead, there were many teachers and school workers still just as angry, if not angrier, about their situation. There were also legislators who expressed extreme skepticism, to put it mildly, about Justice’s “plan” announced Tuesday night to end the statewide teacher strike.

Justice called a press conference at 6 p.m. Tuesday, smiled for the cameras, and told a heartwarming story about a boy he met earlier this week. The governor announced that the state had (quite conveniently) discovered an extra $58 million coming in next fiscal year, which would go toward increased raises for teachers and other state employees.

As for Public Employees Insurance Agency benefits, which many teachers have said is a larger concern than pay raises, Justice said a task force would be appointed “right off the get go” to look into that.

A task force. How reassuring.

After his announcement, Justice — somewhat unbelievably — left to coach a basketball game. As he was leaving, Gazette-Mail reporter Jake Zuckerman asked him an eminently reasonable question: If that money was there, why wasn’t this plan unveiled last week, before the strike?

“Because we needed to work through all the aspects of everything,” Justice said — which even by the standards of political statements that don’t mean anything, is pretty vague.

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Then he said to Zuckerman, “Try to come up with a question that’s a positive. This is a good day.”

You want positive questions, Governor? Here are a few:

Isn’t it positively amazing that the governor pulled this extra money out of somewhere, right when it would do the most good politically? Isn’t it positively true that the budget for the coming fiscal year already incorporated an expected bump from federal tax changes, before this phantom $58 million appeared?

Isn’t it positively risky to base these pay raises on benefits from the federal tax changes, when many economists aren’t sure those benefits will ever be seen?

If the governor touts a plan to help teachers and other state employees, but uses a pot of heretofore-unmentioned money to do so, how many West Virginians are positive that he should stick around and explain himself?

Shouldn’t a man who chose to run for governor, and made a four-year commitment to West Virginia voters, positively put that commitment ahead of coaching a basketball game? If the Greenbrier East girls basketball team had been playing somewhere other than Charleston that night, is anyone positive that Justice would even have been at the Capitol on Tuesday?

When he ran for governor, Justice made a commitment to the people of this state. He’s been a no-show much of this legislative session (and he wasn’t at the Capitol on Wednesday), leading many to wonder if much of the day-to-day running of the state has been delegated to an unelected former media mogul and gas company board member with no official position.

Governing is hard work, and Justice seems increasingly unwilling, or unable, to put in the time and effort necessary.

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