Gov. Jim Justice has been making the rounds on cable news talking about West Virginia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, which has been, in large part, more successful than other states. True, the state isn’t getting as many doses as it needs. Yes, people are having to call their local public health offices multiple times in an effort to get through. But West Virginia has been doing a good job of, as the buzz phrase now goes, “getting shots in arms.”
What’s more, Justice announced during a briefing Thursday the state would be setting up a new online registration system to better organize its response. The governor also said he had been on the phone with President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 czar, Jeff Zients, about plans to produce more vaccines and get them out to West Virginia and the rest of the country.
It’s encouraging that the Republican governor of a state that voted for former President Trump by nearly 70% is eager to work with the new administration. It shows Gov. Justice realizes political differences matter little during a pandemic that has killed more Americans than those who died fighting in World War II.
Also, while case and hospitalization numbers in the state aren’t great, they’re trending downward for the first time in months.
There is reason for hope, and Gov. Justice and his administration deserve credit for what they’ve done. Good governance and leadership encourages unity.
Then the governor was asked about the situation at public schools. A mandated return to in-person learning has created some friction between school employees, who question whether it’s safe, and Justice and the state Board of Education, who clearly want kids back in classrooms. Apart from some pending litigation, the problem has more or less solved itself for now. Almost all of the few districts that were holding out have resumed in-person classes.
Justice noted the state board had the power to make the decision. All well and good. Then he went into everything his administration has done to make things as safe as possible, and mentioned the science his administration is following shows the risk is minimal. There’s some room for debate there, but the argument is consistent and has merit.
It should’ve stopped there, but Justice couldn’t avoid fixating on the matador’s waving, red cape.
The governor went after the teachers’ unions, saying he didn’t understand why teachers were following leaders who had, in his view, failed them so badly. He also added a dig about the November election. The teachers’ unions are largely Democratic in their political affiliations, and the GOP won a supermajority in the state Legislature. Things got much worse, when the governor lowered his voice, looked into the camera and said “If you don’t want to go to work, I can’t help that.”
That was out of line. To suggest teachers don’t want to go back to in-person learning because they’re lazy is mind-boggling. Most teachers in West Virginia work extremely hard, and want to be in the room with their students if at all possible.
In his own argument for in-person classes, Gov. Justice has noted many children in West Virginia rely on school beyond education. It’s a stable environment for those with a turbulent life at home. It’s a place to be fed when there isn’t money at home for proper nourishment. It’s a place where neglect and abuse are spotted and reported. Teachers, administrators and school service personnel are essentially parents and social workers to these kids, on top of the job for which they’re compensated — often poorly.
It was disappointing to see Justice, whom just minutes before had been exuding competence, leadership and hope, drag teachers down into the political muck for no reason but his own ire. Gov. Justice was preaching unity at the top of the briefing, then went out of his way to divide. You’d think a governor who has two teacher and school service personnel strikes on his record would know better. Now a matter that seemed on its way to a solution could get worse, and it was completely avoidable.