In a swift and unexpected announcement Thursday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice left the Democratic Party for the GOP.
“Like or not, the Democrats walked away from me. . . . Today I tell you as West Virginians — I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor. So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican,” Justice announced.
President Trump, who joined Justice at a rally in Huntington, W.Va., had hinted at a “big announcement,” earlier in the day.
A Democrat from a deep-red state elected with 49 percent of the vote in 2016, Justice’s defection to the GOP brings the number of state Republican governors to 34 — the largest number of GOP-controlled governorships number since the 1920s. Justice defeated Republican Bill Cole by seven percentage points in 2016.
Despite joining the ranks of the Republican Party, Justice has revealed himself to be a mixed bag of political inconsistencies as governor. A billionaire coal executive who earned the trust of a state devastated by the closure of coal mines, Justice vetoed a GOP budget bill with deep cuts to social services, particularly Medicaid and higher education subsidies.
Justice countered with tax increases of his own and proposed an infrastructure plan, but protected coal interests.
Justice, who had drawn the ire of Democrats during the November 2016 election over his refusal to endorse Hillary Clinton, had previously been a registered Republican, but switched parties prior to his candidacy for governor.
Speculation persists Justice quit the Democratic Party because the Mountain State leans heavily in favor of Republicans. Long in control of the Democrats, both houses of the West Virginia state legislature are now firmly in control of the GOP.
In the West Virginia House, the GOP’s advantage rests at 63–36–1. Similarly, the GOP’s advantage in the West Virginia Senate is 22–12.
Equally important, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has frequently sided with Trump and the state’s junior senator, Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican, won her seat in the upper chamber in 2014 with 62 percent of the vote.
Trump buried his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points in November, winning all of the state’s 55 counties, the widest margin of victory for one candidate in West Virginia’s history.
Despite the throngs of supporters who cheered Justice’s decision to switch parties, Democratic Governors Association executive director, Elisabeth Pearson, was less than enthusiastic with Justice’s decision.
“Jim Justice deceived the voters of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat 8 months ago. West Virginians have learned that they simply can’t trust Jim Justice. He will always put his financial interests above the needs of West Virginians,” Pearson said following Justice’s defection.
Interviewing Huntington rally-goers Thursday night, the Washington Post reported attendees to have a generally independent populist streak, concerned mainly about jobs, healthcare and the opioid epidemic which has ravaged West Virginia.
[Mediaite] [Washington Post] [iBankCoin.com/YouTube] [Photo courtesy Reuters/Carlos Barria via Grand Forks Herald]