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Mixed feelings for officials on Gov. Jim Justice’s return to GOP

By JESS MANCINI

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice switching to the Republican Party isn’t good no matter what’s said, according to a former Wood County Democratic Party chairman and state executive committee member.

“It’s terrible,” said Walt Auvil. “And there’s no good spin to it.”

Justice Thursday from the stage of President Trump’s rally in Huntington said he will switch from Democrat to Republican today. Justice, a Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2015 and ran for governor in 2016, was introduced by the president.

The governor should be a Republican, said Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, adding as an oil and gas producer, he supports Trump and what the president has done for the industry and for coal.

“That’s where Justice belongs,” Deem said. “He will do a better job as a Republican than he’s done as a Democrat.”

Justice’s first six months in office was highlighted with major budget and finance disagreements with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“Folks are free to register any way they like in West Virginia. We welcome anyone who wishes to join the party of Lincoln,” Rob Cornelius, Wood County Republican Party chairman, said. “But it is imperative that the values in our governor’s office must emulate those of the Republican platform. We look forward to Gov. Justice living up to the principles we have championed here for 154 years.”

The change is a blow to the Democratic Party, Auvil said. The problem, according to Auvil, is the Democratic Party in West Virginia has not stood for traditional Democratic issues. He points to Kansas where conservative Republicans cut taxes, cut spending including to schools, but have had to reverse themselves.

“Kansas is an absolute train wreck,” he said.

Justice’s defection disappointed Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“While I do not agree with his decision, I have always said that I will work with anyone, no matter their political affiliation, to do what is best for the people of West Virginia,” Manchin said.

Justice now stands with the party that represents the future of West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said.

“As the lead Republican in West Virginia, I stand ready to work with him to grow the economy, fight for energy jobs, and create a stronger West Virginia,” she said.

While Justice was welcomed to the Republican Party by House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and state GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas, Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore said the governor was a puppet.

Justice never kept any of the promises he made during the campaign and took advantage of Democrats by “taking our money and our votes,” she said.

“It’s a slap in the face to all of us who believed in what he was promising,” Biafore said. “I never thought I would see Jim Justice be anyone’s puppet. Shame on him.”

Armstead said he was glad Justice has recognized the conservative principles of the Republican Party best represent the people and the best path forward to improve the state.

“That’s why the Republican Party has seen the tremendous growth both in registration and elected representatives in recent years. The people of this state want change, and we welcome all West Virginians to the Republican ranks,”Armstead said. “The majority of the Legislature was elected on a platform of strong, Republican principles, and we hope the governor embraces these principles as he joins our party.”

The state Republican Party looks forward to Justice “reflecting the conservative values of our party and platform,” said Lucas, who has issued blistering releases about the taxes owed by Justice’s companies.

“I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that over the last two years, the Republican Party and myself in particular have attempted to hold Jim Justice accountable for various proposals and differences with the Republican Party,”Lucas said. “Jim Justice’s past differences with our party and our party’s platform came while he was a Democrat. We look forward to a new beginning as the governor now embraces the Republican Party. We hold members of our own party to an even higher standard.

“Like countless other West Virginians, Jim Justice came to the Republican Party on his own and we welcome him,” Lucas said. “Republicans are conservatives. Republicans value the traditional social fabric of our state. Republicans also welcome individuals and are forgiving of past transgressions when individuals make good on their wrongs. We will work with Jim Justice.”

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