Forbes magazine giveth, and Forbes taketh away.
In an article Tuesday, the publication that tracks the estimated value of America’s most wealthy, declared that Gov. Jim Justice, West Virginia’s only billionaire, has fallen out of the three-comma club.
Forbes previously had listed Justice’s net worth as high as $1.7 billion. But a lawsuit revealed that Justice’s Bluestone Resources is in debt to the tune of $850 million to insolvent financier Greensill Capital. That’s enough for the magazine to state that Justice won’t be appearing in the Forbes 400 this year.
No one in West Virginia really knows Justice’s net worth, except for Justice. He never publicly disclosed his tax returns during the 2016 gubernatorial campaign, nor during his successful reelection campaign last year.
Justice might not even know how much he’s worth. The array of the governor’s business holdings, which he did not place in a blind trust after either election, is vast. The only clues are glimpsed through the multiple lawsuit settlements and fines levied against those businesses, which Justice has a history of not paying.
Forbes once dubbed Justice a “deadbeat billionaire” in examining his track record in court (in this most recent case, Justice and his son, in a bit of a role reversal, are suing Greensill).
Justice is still hundreds of millions of dollars wealthier than the average West Virginian. Changing a “b” to an “m” behind the number might not appear particularly important. But his finances do matter. He’s been running the state since January 2017, while still engaged in his businesses, even making appearances in court for various cases that involve those operations.
West Virginians have to ask themselves how a governor who also is a coal baron and still invested in his businesses views important issues like emerging energy markets. Does that view and subsequent action help or hurt West Virginia as a whole? Justice went on a rant Wednesday about how fossil fuels are still vital to the U.S. energy sector. This happened during a COVID-19 briefing.
Justice has been fervent about repealing the state’s income tax. Personal finances might not be the sole reason he’s pursuing the policy, but his fanatical drive to get it done — and in a shorter time frame than the House of Delegates is proposing — suddenly seems to make a lot more sense.
Because Justice never really embraced the role of governor as a full-time job — until the pandemic hit, anyway — West Virginians have had to ask themselves how Justice’s policies benefit him. That’s something citizens ask of every politician, but Justice continues to take it to new heights.