It appears Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Justice will be serving another term.
To earn what he’s received from the voters, there are some things the governor needs to accomplish over the next four years.
For starters, he needs to show up and do the work. Over the past several months, as a pandemic gripped the nation, it’s been easy to forget how little Gov. Justice actually committed to the top office in the state of West Virginia. He refuses to live in the capital city, despite a state constitutional requirement. He continues to coach a high school girls basketball team, because that’s just as important, if not more, to him than running a state.
Gov. Justice can say it doesn’t matter, but two teacher strikes in back-to-back years showed him missing, then out of the loop, out of his depth and woefully out of touch with the situation once he intervened.
He’s also not done a good job of following through on major policy initiatives he announces at the beginning of legislative sessions. The governor argues he’s a successful businessman who can get things done, but delegating his day-to-day responsibilities to advisers and attorneys has not been a winning formula.
Everyone, including us, was impressed with how Justice stepped up and showed his true leadership capability in the early months of the pandemic. That was thanks, in no small part, to his obligation to be present and involved. As he spaced out briefings and began commuting every other day again, the situation declined and messaging began to oscillate, leading to confusion and doubt. He also left some crucial decisions regarding the pandemic to linger over a weekend, rather than taking more proactive measures.
No matter how he rates his capabilities, Justice needs to accept that being governor is a full-time job.
Justice also needs to be more transparent about federal COVID-19 relief funds, and he should call a special session of the Legislature before the end of the year to allow state legislators a look at the situation and a chance to have input on how that money could be best used for their constituents. Gov. Justice and hand-picked advisers should not be the only ones deciding the disbursement of $1.26 billion in funds.
Infrastructure remains a problem, whether talking roads, water or internet access. Broadband is a vital issue, as more and more children have to learn from home and more residents seek health care through telemedicine. Reliable and affordable broadband also is key for businesses large and small.
This is a universal West Virginia problem. Just as there are many rural areas that lack access, there are dead spots and pockets where service frequently goes out even in Charleston. That has to be addressed in a meaningful and organized manner. Whether it’s a committee or a coalition or a task force, something has to be done.
And the governor can’t just stop when part of the solution inevitably involves spending money. Grants and loans can help, but none of West Virginia’s infrastructure problems can be solved without some level of significant state spending.