WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Reiterating the mantra of his campaign, newly elected governor Jim Justice told well-wishers at his victory celebration that he is tired of seeing West Virginia dead last in everything that counts.
The Associated Press called the race for Justice at 9:17 p.m. Afterward, the billionaire owner of The Greenbrier and a variety of other mining, agriculture and other businesses, he spoke to attendees at his victory party at the hotel. Justice reiterated his desire to get West Virginia out of last place in bad categories and also said growing business is the only way to get out of the state’s budget crisis.
“I will work as tirelessly as I can,” he said. “We can’t cut our way out of this mess. We can’t tax our way out. We have to grow our way out. And trust me, I really know how to grow.”
He also said he wants to emphasize agriculture, education and tourism. He said he will “absolutely not raise taxes.” He also mentioned growing coal jobs saying there are increasing coal severance taxes.
“We’ve proven how to be dead last even when coal was at its very best. We’ve got to have much more than coal in this state. We need to have agriculture and medicine, education and timber and bring furniture manufacturing. And we’ve got to attract crackers so we will have real manufacturing jobs and value added to our state. There are so many things we’ve got right at our fingertips.”
Many people danced and sang at the party or batted around the balloons as they fell to the ground. Some of his supporters called it a new day for West Virginia.
Peggy Niebergall, of Wheeling, said she was very excited to see the election results.
“It’s a new vision for West Virginia. It’s positive for West Virginia,” she said. “He has the connections to make things happen and he loves this state. He’s a very down to earth guy. I like his policies, his vision, his personality and his achievements. This is what West Virginia has needed for a long time.”
Trudy Snyder, of Moundsville, agreed, saying one of the reasons she supported Justice is because she believes he will help the coal industry. She said her son still works as a coal miner, but some of her son’s coworkers got laid off.
“He’s going to keep the coal mines going,” she said. “He’s going to help with that.”
“I think it’s going to be a stronger West Virginia,” she later added.
Sharon Ebbert, of Moundsville, who was with Snyder and Niebergall at the victory party, also expressed her excitement.
“This is a new day for West Virginia,” she said.
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In his concession at Charleston’s Embassy Suites, Cole told supporters that he had given the election everything he had.
According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, a hoarse Cole said, “Even though we came up a little bit short tonight, the issues we fought for should not, will not, cannot be given up on or forgotten. I’ve always believed that public service is about doing what you think is right, and the reforms we advanced are right for West Virginia.”
The election loss means Cole will be leaving state government and the Republican-led legislature, which he has helped lead for the past two years as they passed union-opposed legislation, pro-corporate legal reform and a law that allows people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
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Before Tuesday’s election, two national polls differed on the gubernatorial race. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball said the race was a tossup, saying polling showed Justice, the richest man in West Virginia, leading the race, even with the possibility of the state giving Trump his “biggest victory in any state.” The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, meanwhile, had the gubernatorial race as a tossup/tilt Democrat.
Justice has campaigned on the slogan “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and emphasized his experience as a businessman, citing his success with The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. He also campaigned on bringing back coal jobs and emphasizing tourism and education as ways to make West Virginia’s economy more vibrant.
Justice has previously criticized the Legislature on the budget, saying legislators have tried to cut their way out of the problem, when he said the state instead needs to look at growing itself out of the problem.
In a previous interview with The Register-Herald, Justice said the state’s financial problems will not be fixed with raising taxes or cutting programs, but said new industry and jobs will provide the money needed to balance the budget. He also said he wanted to see the state’s agriculture-based economy grow and is open to finding unique crops for the area. He said he would consider medical marijuana and industrial hemp.
Cole, meanwhile previously cited his experience as Senate President and his experience as a businessman. Cole could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Cole started the Bill Cole Automall in 2000 and also owns an aviation company. Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Cole in 2010 to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates. In 2012, he successfully ran for state Senate. He became Senate President in 2014 and presided over the last legislative session.
Justice, D, 344,965
Cole, R, 298,118