Endorsements, Opinion

Endorsement: Jim Justice best of a questionable lot for WV governor

A Gazette editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — We cannot remember a more uninspiring set of choices for West Virginia governor.

Our favorite candidate, Democrat Jim Justice, has a problem paying his taxes and mine safety fines. The Gazette-Mail first reported that Justice owed $3.9 million in property taxes in some of the most cash-strapped counties in the state earlier this year. Justice paid those bills. Then more recently NPR reported Justice still owes $15 million worth of property and minerals taxes; state coal severance and withholding taxes; federal income, excise and unemployment taxes; and mine safety penalties in six states. Oh, and a couple of charitable pledges.

Justice and his people at various times have said those will all be paid, but after a while, this just becomes a way of doing business. It is not a way afforded to everyone, or to all industries. Justice should check that habit.

But the Republican candidate, Senate President Bill Cole, is doing his best to remake West Virginia in the image of bankrupt Kansas.

Sen. Cole literally associates with and raises money from the Koch brothers, who fund candidates who will follow their playbook — repeal prevailing wage laws, enact right-to-work legislation, generally starve needed government to the point of crisis and ineffectiveness. It is a guaranteed formula to derail well-functioning government programs, to distract people and to disillusion them with the potential of their own combined efforts.

Cole has performed well in his role as a deputy of the American Legislative Exchange Council a group of corporate and elected representatives who draft “model” bills and then carry them to legislatures all over the country. Under Cole’s leadership, the Legislature has imported ALEC’s cookie cutter approach, adding West Virginia to the “win” column for national political operatives.

If these measures truly brought prosperity, it would be a different matter. But they don’t. When governments cut taxes or give up worker safety or other protections to lower the cost of doing business, the savings tend to flow to stockholders and out of state, not to West Virginians paying the bills. By contrast, when policies direct more income into workers’ hands, that money is spent in local communities on groceries, utilities, cars, housing and maybe savings and education. There is more economic activity and opportunity. That’s the difference.

Frankly, we were equally disgusted by both parochial candidates at the last debate. If you didn’t know better, you would assume the Northern Panhandle, the Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown do not exist, so devout were both candidates at worshiping the shrinking coal industry.

 If that weren’t enough, after it became known that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bragged about being able to grope women because he is famous, neither candidate asking to be West Virginia’s next governor could find it within himself to repudiate that candidate, or even that behavior during the debate.

But one of them will be governor. We don’t always agree with Justice. He, like Cole, parrots the coal industry line denying climate change. We’d like to think that in office, with the benefit of reliable, professional state employees to research and advise him on scientific subjects, Justice might learn and grow on that issue.

Honestly, we’re not sure reliable, professional state employees would survive a Cole administration. Maintaining the skilled staff necessary for everything from environmental regulation to public health to engineering highways requires a belief in working for the common good that contradicts the bosses at ALEC and the Koch family. That organization’s goals of small government at all costs are at odds with the needs of West Virginians, whether the subject is housing, education, clean air or income security.

So, what of Mountain Party candidate Charlotte Pritt? A reasonable question. Her irresponsible position opposing vaccinations shows her to be as anti-science as climate change deniers. She would not be a unifying presence for the state. She offers a protest vote, for sure, but a vote for her is a vote for Bill Cole.

We have applauded Jim Justice in the past. It is worth remembering that he walked into The Greenbrier staring at bankruptcy and closure and said he would turn it around. He has turned it around. The Greenbrier is open, employing West Virginians, drawing tourists, hosting a pro-golf tournament and other high-profile events.

Justice’s other vague, trust-me ideas about economic diversity through agriculture and tourism also have potential. We hope he will draw new business contacts and opportunities, something beyond the idea that West Virginia can only mine coal. Whatever these new industries turn out to be, we hope Justice would make sure profits are not just walking across our borders to enrich other places as in the past.

In the end, Jim Justice wouldn’t do everything in his power to remake West Virginia into a bankrupt, failed state, where public money is bled off into private hands, where the necessary duties of state government are ridiculed, then dismantled and cast away.

For that reason, we hope Jim Justice is elected governor.

See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

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