Gov. Jim Justice bemoaned the presence of political discussion during his Friday coronavirus briefing. Justice said it shouldn’t be part of the process, given the severity of the pandemic and the reality that 116 lives have been lost in West Virginia.
We agree, and we believe there’s a way to put politics aside, for the most part.
Certainly, there will be questions from the news media that have a political flavor to them. There is an election coming, and Democratic Party candidate Ben Salango has thrown some queries out there that were naturally picked up.
Justice did a pretty good job of handling one such question on Friday, giving a brief answer, adding that politics shouldn’t be involved and taking a minor swipe at his opponent, and then moving on (though he didn’t really answer the thrust of the question, which was about case numbers reported in Kanawha County not lining up with numbers the state was showing).
The second time a question with political implications was posed, Justice went on a long-winded rant against Salango and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Brevity probably would have been the higher road but, again, it was a political question.
Handling all such questions briefly and professionally could go a long way toward removing politics, if that’s what Justice wants.
But the governor could actively do even more to remove the political gamesmanship from these briefings. For instance, Justice had three guests join him Friday, remotely, to speak at the briefing. West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin and Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce each spent a few minutes extolling Gov. Justice’s virtues, thanking him for his leadership and talking about how honored they are to work with him.
In essence, this segment was a campaign stump, not a public briefing on COVID-19. Justice has been blurring those lines for a while now. The briefings offer him a captive audience at a time when campaigning by traditional means is all but impossible. And the governor has taken advantage of the situation. His team also has limited questions from the news media, and it can be difficult to properly engage or challenge the governor on certain issues in such a setting.
If Gov. Justice would remove the dog and pony show aspects of these briefings and refuse to be baited by what might be considered partisan questions (while still answering the pertinent bits), it would be easier to take his grousing about politics seriously.
It’s not like he doesn’t have a point. Case numbers and deaths in West Virginia, while still relatively low compared to other states, continue to climb. As evidenced by what other states have gone through, it doesn’t take much for illnesses and deaths to jump significantly within a short window of time. That’s what needs to be continually explained and explored during these briefings.
The governor can help keep it that way by practicing what he preaches.