By Bray Cary
Governor Justice isn’t a politician.
Over the past 10 months, some of the army of career politicians in West Virginia, have been critical of first year Governor Jim Justice. Their conversation goes, “He has never done politics or run a government before and you can’t just walk in and expect to know how do it. You have to be part of the system to make it work.”
We all know how well politicians have done leading our state in the past. For over 40 years, the Mountain State has ranked at the bottom of almost every state-by state comparison of economic growth, GDP, salary levels of its citizens, prosperity, and on and on. Out of 50 states we sometimes come in 51st.
Despite a state that is in economic ruin, the storied politicians are certain if they just keep doing what they have been doing, someday it will work. They are guardians of the status quo and enemies of change.
Jim Justice was elected because he wanted change and goodness for our state. This ultra-successful businessman thought “outside the box” and if need be, he would move the good ole boys to the side. His election was a mandate for changing how government operated and, most of all, changing the economy and prosperity of the great men and women who work and live here.
In his first days in office, he proposed fixing our highway system, something that had been touted by “experienced politicians” as needed but unaffordable. Meanwhile cars and trucks were torn up or destroyed; no matter where you drove in our beautiful state. There was a failure of leadership and an absence of courage.
Governor Justice’s plan was bold and definitely “outside the box.” Instead of massive tax increases, he asked the legislature to address our state’s fees for vehicle licenses, privilege taxes, etc. to reflect the rates charged by our neighboring states. He then wanted the legislature to allow him to seek voter approval to pass a bond. The new monies generated would enhance the state’s ability to build new roads and fix the old ones. The action would allow the state to invest over $3.5 billion into its bewildered highway system and create tens of thousands of new jobs over the next five years.
But after the Senate passed the Governor’s request, the House of Delegates could not pass it on two separate occasions, one on the last day of the 2017 regular session. The career politicians noted that the rookie Governor’s think bold “outside the box” idea died a quiet death as midnight arrived at the Capitol.
Everyone was resigned to four long years because they kept telling us: “This guy doesn’t know what he is doing. He can’t govern.”
After the Senate and House couldn’t reach agreement with the rookie Governor, a special session was held in late spring.
This is where the inexperienced, think “outside the box” Governor started to really show his leadership abilities. He called the leaders of the Senate and House to meet with him, while at the same time, mobilizing business leaders across the state.
He presented a plan to balance the state budget, but the new revenue needed to balance the budget could only come from the construction of new highways. This required the House to pass a Senate bill that would allow the voters to decide if they would approve the Governor’s vision for igniting the state’s economy with a massive highway and jobs bill. Days into the special session went by but the House, which was frozen in time for the entire regular session, could not come to a consensus on any budget plan.
The Governor stood strong and finally 90 members of the House joined a unanimous Senate and passed the Governor’s budget and Road Bond bill.
Many of the murmurs from the House were suggesting the Governor’s Road Bond had no chance of passage, even House leadership was silent and gave no support publicly for the road bond in the months leading up to the election.
The Governor organized a diverse group of West Virginians that shared his Roads to Prosperity vision for highways and jobs. The Governor barnstormed West Virginia for months. There were untrue rumors that taxes would go up if the bond passed, that the jobs would go to out-of-state workers, and that all the interstate highways in WV would be tolled.
But as the citizens listened to “one of their own” and dismissed the lies and naysayers, they confirmed what a clear majority already knew. The people of West Virginia want change, they want to break the stranglehold that the career politicians have had on this state, but most of all, they want jobs and prosperity for their family and friends.
After voters approved the Road Bond bill by an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote, Governor Justice called a special session of the state’s legislature. He introduced bills that reflected the concerns he heard from the people across the state. His legislation included requirements for winning contractors to hire West Virginia workers first. He also proposed beefing up the enforcement ability of the government, so all the hiring and safety rules could be enforced, not just talked about. Again, after a chorus of naysayers said, “the Governor was being way too aggressive and his proposals would meet their doom in the House” – all six of his bills passed overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support in both houses of the legislature.
History will show that our rookie Governor who didn’t know what he was doing; knew what many of the experienced permanent politicians forgot in our state long ago: “It is the people who matter, and if you act for them and their families and not the special interests, you win their trust and break the stranglehold of the status quo”.
There have been some terrific governors in our state’s history, but the facts are that Governor Jim Justice has forever changed the future of our great state and its wonderful people. He has shown grit, patience and determination. But more importantly he has demonstrated to today’s politicians, and to future lawmakers, that when you put the people’s interest first, they embrace your ideas and give you support to overcome the career politicians trying hold onto the status quo.
Governor Jim Justice has shown us the greatest example of political vision and leadership in our state’s history. The voters have spoken, loud and clear, they believe the time has come to take a new road to our future. And they have said they want the ultra-successful businessman and basketball coach to pilot a new vision for our state and its citizens.
Bray Cary is president of Cary Communications.