During the recent COVID-19 surge, we at the Gazette-Mail have heaped a lot of blame on Gov. Jim Justice for his indecision and lack of attentiveness (for instance, pursuing a second high school basketball coaching job and pouting like a child when he didn’t get it) in a time that has been more unpredictable and worrisome than the original winter surge.
Justice also has taken a lot of criticism for making the incentive package to get more people vaccinated a monument to his own ego, naming the effort after his dog and traversing the state at taxpayer expense for photo ops with winners, while vaccinations haven’t really increased by much.
As icebergs go, that’s just the tip.
But Justice’s attempt to stay neutral now because of what seem like paltry political concerns in the greater scheme of things (while he was all in on protecting public health during the winter surge) hasn’t been all bad.
In other words, what Justice hasn’t done has an upside.
For instance, while Justice has sent mixed signals, especially of late, he’s never embraced the lunacy of some of his GOP colleagues in downplaying the danger of the pandemic. He has consistently said vaccinations are safe and effective, and has never tried to question their efficacy. He hasn’t promoted conspiracy theories about vaccines and has, mostly, shamed those who promulgate them.
Likewise, Justice hasn’t tried to strip power from a school board, municipality, business or county government to enact its own public health policies. Some Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures, in a misguided effort to score political points, have banned locals from enacting mask mandates or requiring vaccines, shooting themselves in the foot as those policies predictably resulted in soaring COVID-19 cases, deaths and overrun health care systems.
The instant a few West Virginia GOP legislators expressed interest in pursuing a similar path, Justice made it clear he wasn’t having it. The governor punted a lot of political heat to business owners, school officials and others at the local level. It’d be terribly hypocritical to take that away after everything those folks have been through as they make difficult decisions and set policy going forward.
Justice seems to have banked on local officials erring on the side of caution, and that has paid off to some extent.
Justice, also, probably is hoping more employers will adopt vaccination and/or testing mandates. He might say he’s against it, but he also knows that’s the only way West Virginia’s worst-in-the-nation vaccination rates will go up before another surge.
Even as active COVID-19 cases in West Virginia drop for the moment, it seems the state and the country are a long way from being done with this pandemic — or perhaps it’s the pandemic that’s not quite done.
The governor’s leadership of late hasn’t been inspiring. An elected official summed up by a shoulder shrug when measuring their guidance in a crisis is not destined for a heroic legacy. But at least he hasn’t actively done anything to threaten the health of constituents. As can be seen in other states across the country, it could be much worse.