Woody Thrasher paused for the slightest second, and blinked.
“Well, that’s just like teeing it up for me,” he eventually said.
Last week, Gazette-Mail editors and a couple of reporters sat down with Thrasher, head of the engineering and architectural firm the Thrasher Group, former commerce secretary under Gov. Jim Justice, and, after an acrimonious departure, now one of Justice’s opponents in the 2020 Republican primary.
The question asked was, indeed, a soft one (preceded and followed by some tougher ones for another time), but there was no other way to ask it.
It was simply, “If elected, will you reside in Charleston?”
If Thrasher was referring to a golf tee, then he crushed the answer a good 300 yards high and straight and it landed in the middle of the fairway. We expect fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Folk would do the same, as would Democratic Party candidate Stephen Smith, or anyone else in the race.
Ironically, the one person who would hook it into the weeds is the one guy among everyone running who owns a golf course. He also occupies the Governor’s Office. Well, sometimes.
Thus the need to ask a sophomorically simple question that will be asked of every candidate we meet with.
Gov. Justice has, of course, made no secret of continuing to live in Greenbrier County, roughly two hours away by car, even during the legislative session. He insists that he puts in the work of a full-time governor, usually defaulting to superlatives that he works harder than anyone else. Nothing happens at the Capitol without him knowing, he’s repeatedly stated.
This is demonstrably untrue, from the chaotic legislative sessions and additional special sessions West Virginia has witnessed over the past two years. Instead of letting reality shape Justice’s opinion, he has become more entrenched. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, is suing Justice, alleging that the governor is in violation of the state constitution by not living in the capital city. Justice dismisses this effort as a political stunt, on one hand, while assembling a stout legal team (including a former acting attorney general of the United States) on the other.
Thrasher hit the highlights anyone would be expected to hit: variations on “you show up and you go to work” to analogies of sports teams not being able to function if everyone’s not on the same page to poking fun at Justice’s outdated flip-phone that the governor claims keeps him informed of every move on Capitol grounds.
“There’s a reason that they built that mansion 50 steps from the Capitol,” Thrasher said of the traditional residence of governors.
With the slightest whiff of perspective, the whole situation can be viewed for how ridiculous it truly is. And it’s not about actual residency. If Justice wanted to literally helicopter in every morning from Lewisburg and then helicopter out at the end of the day, that’d be fine. Being a leader means showing up. No matter how many proxies and assistants the governor has sprinting the grounds, it’s not a substitute for doing the work; for being an actual leader.
The only way this changes is if the courts somehow intervene (a lengthy process) or Justice loses in 2020. Imagine losing a governor’s race because you were too stubborn to actually be the governor.