Justice, Thrasher campaigns trade barbs

CHARLESTON — The political campaigns for Gov. Jim Justice and Woody Thrasher have traded attacks mere days after the former Department of Commerce secretary entered the 2020 Republican primary for governor.

The Justice campaign issued a press release Thursday night, titled “Justice Campaign to Thrasher: ‘Hello, is anyone home?'” The release criticized Thrasher’s Wednesday appearance on the “Tom Roten Morning Show,” a radio program based in Huntington.

The phone interview occurred a day after Thrasher announced his campaign for governor and filed the paperwork for pre-candidacy to allow him to raise money before the primary filing period in January.

During the interview, the phone connection between Roten and Thrasher cut out twice.

The first time, Roten was asking Thrasher about the $105 million Save our State fund, a 2017 Justice proposal to increase funding to the Commerce Department, State Development Office and Division of Tourism. The second time happened after Roten asked Thrasher about what kinds of education reform he supported.

Thrasher could be heard to use an expletive on air, followed by a brief pause.

“Tom, again I can’t hear you. I don’t know if it’s my phone or yours,” Thrasher said.

“Unbelievable,” Roten said after the phone call dropped a second time. “You’d think he could get a better phone there.”

“I’m not sure what’s more sad: that the simplest policy questions stumped Woody Thrasher, or that he thinks voters are foolish enough to believe that his phone mysteriously broke two separate times in one interview,” said Mike Lukach, campaign manager for Justice and a veteran of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“Gov. Justice has no problem answering questions with his (basic flip phone). And since Woody Thrasher’s phone breaks at the most inopportune times, I’m offering to buy him a new phone,” Lukach said.

Lukach criticized Thrasher for not having a specific answer for Roten on whether he supports the state’s constitutional carry law that allows citizens to carry a firearm without a concealed carry permit. Thrasher, in what appears to be a mis-statement, told Roten “I’m very much more aligned with the Democratic Party than I am the Republican Party” when asked why he switched from a registered Democrat to a Republican last month.

“Woody Thrasher clearly stated that his values align much more with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party,” Lukach said. “It obviously wasn’t a mistake, since that answer came after he dodged a question on concealed carry by saying he needs to ‘study the issue’ and citing opposition to the measure.”

The Thrasher campaign hit back Friday morning with a release of its own, also titled “Is Anyone Home.” In it, Thrasher Communications Director Ann Ali said the Justice campaign achieved “irony” for asking if anyone’s home when Justice does not follow the state Constitution and reside in Charleston, the seat of government.

“To come out with a headline asking if anyone is home when his candidate is the only governor in the history of our state fighting a lawsuit forcing him to come to work is just sad,” Ali said. “Woody has grown his business from a three-man group to over 700 because his ability to come to work, communicate and answer hard questions.”

A hearing was scheduled for June 5 in Kanawha County Circuit Court in a case to require Justice to reside in Charleston. Article 7 of the state Constitution requires all executive branch elected officials to “reside at the seat of government,” which is Charleston. The case was brought by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton.

The candidate filing period for the 2020 primaries starts Jan. 13. Five Republicans are listed as pre-candidates for governor, including Mike Folk, a former Berkeley County delegate.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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