By Leah Deitz
Local billionaire, coal executive, farming executive, and resort owner, Jim Justice, announced Monday his 2016 bid for governor.
Justice has an extensive background as an entrepreneur. He currently owns coal mines and agricultural facilities in West Virginia and surrounding states. He also owns a number of resort properties including The Greenbrier and Glade Springs.
Justice addressed a crowded room of media representatives, lobbyists and members of the local business community at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center gymnasium. He said that his decision to run for governor has been brewing for some time. “In some ways I would never dream of being in front of you like I am today,” he said. “But for most ways, I admit that my heart has been driving me to this moment for a long time. You see, it’s really simple – many are really hurting today in West Virginia.”
According to Justice, lack of jobs and the demoralization of West Virginians by outsiders are two of the most pressing issues residents of the state face. “We must find a way to get these miners back to work and then we have to do much more in other industries to attract jobs,” he said. He asked the crowd, “Why are our families fragmented, with the kids having to leave to find work? Why are we as West Virginians constantly at the end of a bad joke?”
Justice said he feels strongly that West Virginia is in need of a leader, not a politician who has a career to protect. “Somebody that loves our people and this great state,” he said. “Somebody that wants nothing for himself. Only goodness for our state.” Although rich in business experience, Justice has never held a political office.
Now that Justice has made his announcement, he must secure the nomination of the West Virginia Democratic Party. For the Democratic ticket, the greenhorn politician faces opposition from State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, who has been representing District 2 since 1997. Kessler served as Senate President and Lieutenant Governor from 2011 to 2014.
Kessler released a statement regarding Justice’s bid, in which he said, this will be a “spirited campaign.” “It will be up to the voters to decide who best represents their interests. The hardworking men and women of West Virginia will decide if big ideas and hard work will beat big money.”
Kessler is not the only opponent of Justice. The West Virginia Republican Party launched an email campaign against Justice, before his event had even come to a close, Monday afternoon. According to West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas, “Justice profited from back room political deals while racking up millions in fines and taxes that his companies refused to pay. And, while working families struggle, billionaire Justice didn’t pay his bills.”
Conrad is referencing tax credits received by many of the business enterprises owned by Justice, including construction at The Greenbrier, his yearly golf event The Greenbrier Classic and the building of a proposed medical center in White Sulphur Springs and the resort’s AdvoCare facility. In addition, the Associated Press reported in 2013 that since the beginning of 2012, there had been at least five lawsuits – one in federal court – that sought unpaid bills in the three Kentucky counties where Justice has mining operations. Two more were filed in Tennessee and two in Wise County, VA. No current information regarding these lawsuits is available.
Candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial seat include State Senate President, auto dealer and ex-State Delegate Bill Cole, college student Andrew Utterback and ex-Bramwell Police Chief Edwin Vanover. Other candidates are Libertarian, farmer and retired engineer David Moran, Independent Tyler Cloud Dixon and Independent Caroll Garnes, Jr.
Incumbent Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has reached his two term limit. The Primary Election in West Virginia is scheduled for May 10, 2016. All major party candidates must file by January of 2016. The gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 8, 2016. Third party and Independent candidates have until August of 2016 to file, and write-in candidates have until September.