Jim Justice: Is the fox in charge of the hen house?

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Dear Editor:

Jim Justice is probably the wealthiest person in West Virginia. Records suggest his father gave him assets worth $25 million. His wealth is now estimated to be over $1.6 billion.  He apparently owns over 50 companies, primarily in coal, agriculture and resorts. How did he do it? Going from a millionaire to a billionaire requires some special talent, some special ideas. Could you do the same?

Here is one approach. Reliable data suggests Governor Justice has not paid State taxes in years. Estimates suggest he owes over $15 million in back taxes and fines. At least $5.4 million is owed in unpaid county taxes. These are careful estimates, but only estimates, because he refuses to release his tax records. He also refuses to divest himself of his companies so conflict-of-interests with his position as Governor are strong and obvious.

Here is a second idea, related to the first. Some wealthy people do what they want, flaunt the law but then spend huge amounts of money hiring lawyers who will agitate in the courts for years. Eventually publicly appointed attorneys leave office or run out of time and patience. Like a few other very wealthy men, Jim Justice often hires contractors to complete work and then does not pay them. He has been sued repeatedly. Courts are clogged and lawyers can keep a man from paying what he owes for years and years so taxes and contracts go unpaid. He is even being sued by a lawyer who aided him in reducing mining violation fines.

And the mines he owns. His mines have been cited with over 4,000 violations. Five hundred of these are described as “common in mine disasters.” One judge wrote that a Justice mine was “the kind of operation that should not be allowed to continue due to its reckless disregard of the law.” National Public Radio in a report before the recent election noted that the accident rate in his mines was 200% of the national average. Disregarding all the evidence, Justice has described himself as “a safety fanatic… I’m the last person in the world that’s wanting… to put an employee in a situation that would be unsafe.” Is he really a safety fanatic with that kind of record? Should we think that our governor is above reproach and not dishonest when he speaks?

Governor Justice also owes $6,000,000 in back state withholding and coal severance taxes. So, break the law repeated times and put people’s lives in danger because profit must come first. Ignore the law if it is inconvenient.

Apparently, you can become rich by flaunting the laws, and then not pay taxes and fines. Add that to not paying contractors who work for you and millions begin to add up. Instead use your money to hire lawyers who can get you off paying pennies on the dollars owed. And it’s all legal. Not moral but legal, that’s the secret. Morality should not stand in the way of making money. Add that to the list of how to become rich.

But perhaps there is another way also. Develop a project that will make you richer and then pay lobbyists to convince the State that it is in their “best interest” to pay for it. Governor Justice, before he was elected, obtained a $25,000,000 tax credit for his Greenbrier Resort. I guess he convinced lawmakers that when he made money, the whole State of West Virginia benefited. He also obtained $1,000,000 in State aid to create his gambling casino. Gambling will bring him big money, too.

In Monroe County where I live, Jim Justice has a large hunting estate. He decided to put several concrete dams in a stream, apparently to develop ponds and encourage duck or goose hunting. He did not get required Department of Environmental Protection approval, he just did it. Of course, it would disrupt the environment to require his company to take out the dams. They let him go with a fine.

There are good arguments to be made on his behalf. When he purchased The Greenbrier Resort, over 600 workers had been laid off by the former owners. He brought back all the jobs and hired more. Furthermore, in early 2015 he allowed flood victims to stay at his Greenbrier Resort.  But in the balance, one must question whether this man has the ethical and moral code that most of us expect in our highest state office.

What happened in this last election? Perhaps the quote from 1930’s actress Mae West explains it, “When presented with two evils, I always pick the one I never tried.” Justice has never held public office and his opponent in the election had a long record in the State Senate.

I end with two interrelated questions.

Is this the kind of morality that we want in our State’s highest office?

What are we going to do to correct our bad decision in electing him?

I think it is time to move the State in a more moral and people-centered direction. We need good government and a more equal distribution of the wealth. Care to join me?

Please write to me at abergrump@aol if you wish to respond.

Randy Grumpelt
Second Creek