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West Virginia’s Jim Justice is South’s most popular governor; Georgia’s Brian Kemp the least

Morning Consult poll shows Democratic governors with aggressive COVID-19 strategies with higher approval than GOP governors who have resisted mandates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is the South’s most popular chief executive, with Alabama’s Kay Ivey close behind in new polls on gubernatorial approval from the polling firm Morning Consult.

The polls, taken over the course of the last four months and released November 11, also show that Georgia Republican Brian Kemp’s approval rating among registered voters was just 42%, making him the region’s least popular chief executive as he heads into what is expected to be a tough re-election battle next year against furious opposition from Donald Trump.

The poll in Kentucky had better news for Democrat Andy Beshear, whose approval rating stood at 54%, despite taking considerable fire from Republicans over his COVID-19 policies.

Beshear will face voters again in 2023, as will Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves. However, the approval rating for Reeves, who may face a primary challenge from House Speaker Philip Gunn, stood at just 49%, making him and Kemp the only two Southern governors with approval ratings below 50% ahead of a run for his third term.

Morning Consult did not report disapproval numbers, so it was unclear if Reeves and Kemp were actually under water in their approval numbers, with more people disapproving than approving.

The approval rating for Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who has taken the leading in fighting mask and vaccine mandates, stood at 52% ahead of a Democratic challenge in 2022. Texas’s Greg Abbott, who has taken a similar line of resistance against mandates, had an approval rating of 50%.

Three of the region’s Democratic governors who have been more aggressive with COVID-19 mitigation measures – Beshear, North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards – had higher approval ratings than DeSantis and Abbott, although within the poll’s margin of error.

Justice’s approval rating stood at 65%, despite a string of headlines about financial and regulatory problems for companies owned by his family and an odd dispute about whether he should be hired to coach a boy’s high school basketball team.

Ivey, who became governor in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in a sex scandal, had an approval rating at 62%, as she heads into a re-election race in which she will be heavily favored.

However, she, too, has run afoul of Trump over cancellation of a June rally in Mobile, and he is reportedly trying to find a primary challenger to run against her.

Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt also appear to be in strong shape for 2022, with Lee’s approval at 55% and Stitt’s at 54%.

The other Southern governor up next year, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, stood at 52%.

Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson has a 57% approval rating as he heads toward the exit due to term limits – despite being one of the very few elected Republicans willing to offer criticism of Trump.

Hutchinson has said he will not back Trump if he runs for the White House again in 2024 and that relitigating the 2020 election would be a “recipe for disaster.” He has raised his national profile in recent months, with numerous appearances on Sunday talk shows, prompting speculation that he might make his own presidential run in 2024.

Kemp has drawn Trump’s active wrath for refusing to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. Former Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is considering a primary challenge, and the GOP nominee will likely be facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp narrowly beat in 2018.

Two Southern Democratic governors who are in the middle of their second and final term – Edwards and Cooper – had positive approval ratings, at 53% and 52%, respectively.

Morning Consult gathered the responses from July 21 to October 20 among registered voters in each state. The margin of error was +/-4%.

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Decision 2020: Republicans’ red wall holds across the South

Though Joe Biden appears to have carried Georgia, Democrats failed to make gains in U.S. Senate, House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Republican political dominance across the South largely held up in Tuesday’s election, winning 12 states in the presidential race, most of the contested U.S. Senate contests, and taking down four U.S. House Democratic freshmen who had flipped seats in 2018.

However, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holds a small lead in Georgia, pending a recount, and carried Virginia.

Republican incumbents appeared to have held on to Senate seats in Texas, Kentucky, and South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as flipping a seat in Alabama, where Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones lost to Republican Tommy Tuberville.

Two Senate seats in Georgia will be heading to January 5 runoffs. Republican incumbent David Perdue won a plurality against Democrat Jon Ossoff but not the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. In the other race, incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler will face Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Among the GOP senators who will return are two who were prime targets for Democrats — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won a seventh term in Kentucky, and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who won in South Carolina despite more than $100 million spent to defeat him by his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison.

McConnell defeated Democrat Amy McGrath by 20 points; Graham beat Harrison by 22.

Incumbents won both of the governor’s races in the South: Democrat Roy Cooper won in North Carolina and Republican Jim Justice won in West Virginia.

Republicans also retook several U.S. House seats that Democrats had won in 2018, ousting U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Joe Cunningham in South Carolina; and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala, whose districts are in based in metro Miami-Dade, were swept up in a Republican wave of Cuban-American voters, who were also key to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State.

Republican Tony Gonzales also picked up an open GOP-held seat in West Texas, defeating Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones

The news was better in Georgia, where Democrat Lucy McBath kept her seat in the northwest Atlanta suburbs and and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux was leading in a Republican-held district in the northeast suburbs.

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, Democrat Elaine Luria also kept her seat, and Abigail Spanberger held a small lead in her district in the Richmond suburbs. Democrats also picked up two seats in North Carolina that had become more Democratic after a court-ordered redraw of the state’s map.

But Democrats came up bone dry in Texas, where they had targeted 10 seats and lost them all. They also failed to flip targeted seats in North Carolina, Florida and Arkansas.

Overall across the South, Democrats lost a net of two seats, which would put the balance of power at 103 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

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West Virginia Primary: Democrats pick Kanawha Commissioner Ben Salango to take on GOP Governor Jim Justice

 Environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen wins Democratic U.S. Senate nomination

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — West Virginia Democrats have selected Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango to take on party-switching Republican Governor Jim Justice in November.

Salango won Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary with 39 percent to 33 percent for Stephen Smith, a community organizer and former executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. State Senator Ron Stollings came in third with 14 percent.

Salango addresses supporters in Charleston (From WOWK via YouTube)

“Tomorrow morning, we get to work, and we’re going to win the general election,” Salango told supporters at his victory rally in Charleston. “I’ll be a governor who gets things done. I’ll be a governor who shows up and puts public service ahead of self-serving.”

Justice easily won the Republican primary, carrying 63 percent of the vote against three challengers.

The race against Justice will be a grudge match for Democrats, after the governor infuriated them by jumping to the GOP just seven months after taking office in 2017 — and adding insult to injury by announcing the switch on stage at a rally with President Donald Trump.

Salango had the backing of a slew of labor and teachers unions and was also endorsed by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who had flirted with running against Justice himself before deciding to take a pass. Smith ran a more grassroots campaign, using the slogan “WV Can’t Wait.”

Also on Tuesday in the primary for U.S. Senate, Democrats selected environmental activist Paula Jean Swearingen, to face Republican U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Swearingen took 38 percent to 33 percent for former State Senator Richard Ojeda, an outspoken retired Army officer who lost a race for Congress in 2018 and then launched a quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that failed to gain traction. Coming in third was Richie Robb, the former mayor of South Charleston, at 29 percent.

In 2018, Swearingen ran in the Democratic primary against the state’s other senator, Democrat Joe Manchin, taking 30 percent of the vote. That campaign was profiled in a Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House.”

Capito will be a heavy favorite in November, given the Mountain State’s strong GOP tilt in federal elections.

West Virginia does not have primary runoffs, which means that the leading vote-getter in both the governor’s and Senate races is the nominee.

Also on Tuesday, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael was defeated in the GOP primary by Amy Nichole Grady, a teacher from Leon. Legislative leaders have been at odds with state teachers over pay and education funding, which led to two strikes by teachers.

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Blow against corruption or power grab? West Virginia House impeaches entire Supreme Court

Senate removal of justices could allow Governor Jim Justice to cement GOP majority on court

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHALRESTON, West Virginia (CFP) — West Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates has voted to impeach all four members of the Supreme Court of Appeals over allegations of overspending and mismanagement — a move that could cement GOP control of state’s highest court.

The House approved 11 articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis, Beth Walker and Allen Loughry on August 13. The Senate will now decide whether to convict and remove the justices from office.

Republicans hold 23 of 34 seats in the Senate, one seat short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to remove the justices.

Justice Robin Davis announces her resignation (YouTube)

However, after the impeachment vote, Davis resigned to deprive Republican Governor Jim Justice of the opportunity to appoint a replacement who would sit in her seat without facing election until 2020. She and Democratic leaders blasted the impeachment vote as a partisan power grab.

“The majority members (of the House) have ignored the will of the people who elected the justices of this court,” Davis said at a news conference. “They have erased the line of separation between the branches of government. In fact, the majority in the legislature is positioning to impose their own party preferences.”

Both Workman and Davis said they do not plan to resign and will answer the House’s charges in the Senate

“There is no basis for my impeachment, and I will continue to do the work, both administrative and judicial, that the people of West Virginia elected me to do,” Workman said in a statement. “I look forward to putting all the facts before the Senate in the next phase of this process.”

Republican legislative leaders insisted that removal was warranted over revelations of lavish spending and mismanagement by the justices, which triggered state and federal investigations that have led to criminal charges against two justices.

“After reviewing all the evidence available to us, it became clear that a culture of entitlement and disregard for both the law and taxpayer funds have damaged the reputation of our judicial system – and that all justices had a part in violating the public’s trust,” said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement.

Justice Menis Ketchum resigned in July after agreeing to plead guilty to one court of mail fraud for misusing a state-owned vehicle. Loughry, who has been suspended from the bench, is facing a 22-count federal indictment in addition to charges brought by the state Judicial Investigation Commission.

Workman, Davis and Ketchum were elected to the Supreme Court as Democrats. Loughry was elected as a Republican; Walker, who was elected after the state switched to non-partisan judicial elections in 2016, is also a Republican.

Ketchum’s resignation led to a 2-to-2 partisan split on the court, pending an election this fall to fill the remainder of his term.

However, if the justices were to be impeached, the justices appointed by Justice to fill those positions who would serve until the 2020 elections because, under state law, vacancies that occur less than 85 days before an election aren’t filled until the next general election.

Davis, by resigning, beat that deadline by one day, which means her seat will also be filled in a special election this fall.

If the three remaining impeached justices are removed and replaced by Justice with members of his party, Republicans would hold at least three of the five seats — and could possibly hold them all by winning the elections for the vacant seats in November.

Justice himself was elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, switching to the GOP in August 2017.

The impeachment votes in the House against Workman, Davis and Walker were along partisan lines, although some Democrats crossed the aisle to support impeaching Loughry.

The Senate is not currently in session, and Senate leaders have not announced a plan for how to proceed with the justices’ impeachment trial.

A flip toward Republicans on the Supreme Court would be the latest bad news for West Virginia Democrats, who have seen their once tight grip of state politics unravel.

Democrats controlled the legislature for more than 80 years before losing control to Republicans in 2014 and also dominated the state’s governorship and congressional delegation.

But the Mountaineer State has experienced a pronounced Republican shift in recent years, capped off by Donald Trump’s 40-point win in 2016, his best showing in any state except Wyoming.

The GOP now holds not only the governorship, but also six of seven statewide partisan offices, a U.S. Senate seat and all three U.S. House seats.

In addition to their margin in the Senate, Republicans control the House of Delegates 64 to 36.

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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switches from Democrat to Republican

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.”

Governor Jim Justice

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.

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