Governor makes dramatic announcement at Donald Trump rally
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
HUNTINGTON, West Virginia (CFP) — Just nine months after winning West Virginia’s top job as a Democrat, Governor Jim Justice has switched to the Republican Party, telling his voters that “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.”
Justice made his announcement in the most public way possible — at August 3 campaign-style Donald Trump rally in Huntington, with the president looking on. And the newly minted Republican, a longtime friend of Trump and his family, offered an unqualified endorsement of his new party’s standard-bearer.
“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone,” Justice said. “He’s got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”
Trump carried West Virginia by 42 points in November, his biggest margin of victory in any state except Wyoming, at the same time Justice was keeping the statehouse in Charleston in Democratic hands.
However, Justice told the crowd in Huntington that the decision to bolt to the GOP also stemmed from a dispute he had with Democrats in the legislature after a tax plan he crafted with Republican help went down to defeat.
“At the altar, when we had it done, like or or not, but the Democrats walked away from me,” he said.
In response to Justice’s announcement, West Virginia Democratic chairwoman Belinda Biafore issued a statement accusing the governor of caring more about his own political future than the people of his state.
“During his campaign for governor, Jim Justice said he would never lie to the public; he said he would never be a politician, and he would definitely be a full-time governor. None of those promises were kept,” she said.
“Jim Justice took advantage of Democrats by taking our money and our votes. It’s a slap in the face to all of us who believed in what he was promising. I never thought I would see Jim Justice be anyone’s puppet. Shame on him.”
Republicans control both house of the West Virginia legislature, which means Justice will now be titular head of a party that has complete control of state government for the first time since at least 1931.
Justice, noting that his late parents were both “staunch Republicans,” said he imagined that his mother was in heaven “saying ‘Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”
He also took a shot at those focusing on the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, which has been dominating the conversation in Washington.
“Haven’t we heard enough about the Russians?” Justice said, drawing thunderous applause from the pro-Trump crowd. “I mean, to our God in heaven above, think about it. The stock market’s at 22,000. And this country has hope. And we’re on our way.”
Like Trump, Justice, 66, was a billionaire businessman with no political experience before being elected, a fact the governor also noted while announcing his switch.
“This man and myself are not politicians. We ran to get something done,” he said. “We ran because we want nothing. We ran as our Founding Fathers did years and years ago, to serve.”
A sitting governor changing parties during his term in office is extraordinarily rare. The only recent precedent was former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who switched from Republican to independent in 2010 during an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senator. Crist is now a Democratic member of the U.S. House.
Justice’s switch means that Democrats now hold just three of 14 Southern governorships, in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia. Nationwide, Republicans hold the governor’s office in 34 states, matching their all time high.