Latest News, WVPA Sharing

W.Va. Gov. Justice anticipates more “harmonious” legislative session


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  – Gov. Jim Justice, now a Republican, says he foresees a more “harmonious” legislative session in his second go-round.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice and legislative leadership had their share of disagreements and raucous encounters the last legislative session. When the West Virginia Legislature passed its first budget, Justice called it a “bunch of bull-you-know-what” with a cow patty sitting atop the bill. He vetoed the bill, sending the Legislature back to work in a special session.

He also has called Republican leadership various names, once referring to himself as a grizzly bear and State Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, as a poodle.

But Justice said he sees a different relationship moving forward.

“It’s going to be a more harmonious situation,” Justice said. “We had to have what we went through last year to get where we needed to be. It was time for someone to rattle the cage. Like it or not like it, it was time. It wasn’t any fun for me or others.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, agreed, saying he also anticipated a more optimistic and hopeful legislative session with a better working relationship with the governor.

“The expectation, the optimism and hopefulness with which we approach this legislative session is very high,” Carmichael said. “We have a great working relationship with the governor and the House of Delegates. It’s the first time in over 85-86 years we have had a complete Republican Legislature and executive branch. We want to deliver for the people of West Virginia.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he feels the relationship between the governor and the Legislature will depend on policies.

“I have consistently stated that the level of harmony between the governor and Legislature depends on policies being pursued by the governor and/or the Republican majority,” he said.

Justice has had a good relationship with the Senate in the last legislative session. His quarrels have come on the House end of the Capitol. The last night of the session, Justice had announced a budget framework agreement reached with the Senate. House leadership, however, said they were not included in that discussion. House Speaker Tim Armstead could not be reached for comment. Carmichael said he anticipates a better working relationship with all three leaders.

Justice announced his decision to switch party affiliation at President Donald Trump’s Aug. 3 rally in Huntington. At a press conference the next day, he said his decision to switch affiliation was a strategic move to advance interests of West Virginians.

Party switch a nonissue

Justice said he doesn’t think his party switch plays much of a role in why he expects a more harmonious session, however.

“Switching parties is not the end-all do-all answer,” Justice said in a sit-down interview with The Register-Herald, “but it was time for us to be awakened and now is the time for all of us to unite and be West Virginians because now, this guy has really rattled the cage and this guy was a dreamer.”

At Trump’s rally, Justice criticized Democrats, saying he felt they walked away from him during the special budget session.

“The governor has done just about everything he can do to destroy every relationship he has in the Capitol in the past year,” Miley said. “His ability to reconcile and repair any relationships that may have been damaged will depend on his policies and his attitude toward a co-equal branch of government.”

Justice said he doesn’t have any ill feelings toward Democrats.

“I hope the Democrats will be supportive of the things we are trying to initiate but at the same time, I am a Republican. I am that,” Justice said. “I’m absolutely committed to help Republicans any way I can. Republicans have the majority and we today ought to be able to move things along. But on top of that, I’m not going to be a proponent of moving anything along that hurts the state, hurts our water or environment, or hurts our people.”

Carmichael said he’s seen an agreement among the Legislature and the governor on philosophy on potential agenda items for the session.

“We know what West Virginia needs to move forward and agree on many measures,” Carmichael said. “There are those who oppose specific aspects. In general, it’s lined up philosophically in the same direction and we have the wind at our backs.

“The changes we’ve made to West Virginia over the last three years are beginning to show fruit.”

Focus on education

Justice didn’t go into many specifics for the upcoming session but said he wants the central focus to be on education.

“There is going to be a really great big push from my side and a positive push from the other side too to revisit education in a really positive way,” Justice said.

“It’s all summarized in a snowball,” he added. “We’ve got jobs coming and road building, the coal business is coming back a little bit, tourism is a real opportunity – we have all kinds of opportunities. We’ve got to keep all that going and let it multiply itself. Education is a component that is really important to me.”

Carmichael also mentioned education with an idea of looking into the potential of providing free community and technical college education for all adults.

“This is a Republican initiative and it’s an enormous game-changer for West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “We’re going to try to find ways to do this without increasing government expenditures.

“This gives people a path forward and opportunity for a career,” Carmichael said. “Jobs that are necessary to compete in the 21st century aren’t always four-year degrees. Many times, they are certifications and different professions including electrical or plumbing.”

Tennessee was the first state to offer free community college to all Tennessee adults who have lived in the state for a year and do not have an advanced degree. The state passed legislation earlier this year. Under this program, Tennessee Reconnect offers students scholarships funded by the state lottery. It’s expected to cost $10 million, according to national media reports.

“We are looking at ways to deliver this education that takes advantage of federal programs for job retraining, job displacement and also continue a 13th year for public education,” Carmichael said. “We are very excited about this prospect.”

Carmichael said preliminary numbers show the cost of this could be about the same as Tennessee’s estimated cost – at the lower range at $10 million – a year. However, he said these are preliminary numbers.

Carmichael said he also wants to bring the state Supreme Court’s budget under the control of the Legislature. According to a WCHS report, costs for furnishing offices in the state Supreme Court have reached $3.7 million with furnishings including Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s $32,000 sectional sofa with $1,700 worth of throw pillows.

DHHR reorganization

Another agenda item for the upcoming session is a potential reorganization of the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Draft legislation has been written to reorganize the DHHR and separate it into four agencies.

“We want to continue to reorganize government to deliver better services at a lower cost,” Carmichael said.

Miley said he would like to see a few things addressed in the session. The first is to create an environment where jobs can grow in West Virginia. He mentioned tourism as an example, saying West Virginia needs to market itself more effectively. He said this only comes from providing more funding for that endeavor.

He said he also would like to see site preparation and site development addressed. He also mentioned education.

“I do indeed think we need to focus a lot of our attention on ensuring that continued learning in any capacity is accessible to all students after they graduate high school,” he said. “That includes but is not limited to traditional four-year colleges, community and technical schools, as well as more discrete and specialized training programs.”

Miley said another priority is getting the budget done on time.

“I would like to see that made a priority — getting the budget done on time so that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are not spent doing work that should have been done in a timely manner.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

See more from The Register-Herald

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter