Through dogged and commendable persistence, the Associated Press last week obtained copies of activity schedules for Gov. Jim Justice.
Going over seven months of scheduling, the AP reported the records show the governor “almost never meets with his Cabinet, is rarely at the Capitol and was largely missing at one of the most critical points of this year’s legislative session. The schedules mostly show him at photo ops or simply unaccounted for.”
This is hardly surprising for anyone who has followed the Justice administration since the governor took office more than two years ago. His absence during key moments of legislative sessions, especially in 2018 during the early stages of a nine-day, statewide teacher strike, has been painfully noticeable.
In the 2018 State of the State address, Justice described himself as the state’s “coach.” Most coaches — ones who keep their jobs, anyway — show up for every game, and they certainly wouldn’t miss a championship series. Toss another one on the pyre of broken metaphors.
Perhaps the problem that illustrates the larger issue the best is that Justice refuses to live in Charleston — as the state constitution requires — opting to continue to reside in Greenbrier County, a near two-hour drive away.
Anytime the issue is raised, including in court, Justice has said nothing gets past him, he works harder than anyone else and nothing happens without him knowing. The sad reality is that is clearly not the case.
Justice may have a good team working for him daily at the Capitol, but it’s not the same as being there himself to make sure his objectives are accomplished. Instead, since he’s switched to the Republican Party, we’ve seen two legislative sessions where his goals have been at odds with at least one of the two legislative chambers, despite GOP control in both.
Republicans and Democrats told the AP that Justice’s absence is notable, with Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, saying of Justice, “He seems like he doesn’t have his whole heart in it.” Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, added, “He has his staffers do a lot of the work, and then, when he comes in, it’s more of a cheerleading type of thing, rather than talking specifics.”
Justice issued a statement saying the schedules obtained by the AP weren’t reflective of how he actually spends his time as governor, and function more as an outline for his staff.
“I’ve been working like crazy the last two-plus years, turning over every rock possible to make our great state even greater,” he said.
But you don’t need the schedules to see the truth. Justice isn’t fully committed to the job, even if he thinks he is. And whether it’s his myriad business interests that keep him away or the simple fact that he doesn’t want to be in the middle of running the state all day, every day, doesn’t matter. The outcome is still the same.
He’s not fully invested in what he signed up for, and it hurts the state. Forget what the Legislature or the Republican and Democratic parties think. What about the people of West Virginia who voted for him?
Gov. Justice’s heart is in the right place, but his focus isn’t. With mounting legal problems at businesses he should have placed in a blind trust, along with issues of unpaid fines and taxes, it’s hard to see that changing. And yet, he’s asking the voters to give him four more years in 2020. West Virginians should think long and hard about that request.