Senators: Relationship with Gov. Justice ‘strained’

WHEELING — Republicans in the West Virginia Senate representing Northern Panhandle communities indicate they have a strained relationship with Gov. Jim Justice.

Their comments came after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, on Monday called for Justice — also a Republican — to resign as he is not supporting much of the Senate Republican plan to reform education in the state.

Justice, who was elected as a Democrat and later changed parties, also has come under personal scrutiny for his companies not paying taxes owed to West Virginia.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, serves as majority whip in the Senate, and is a member of the Senate leadership team.

“I don’t think it matters if Craig Blair or Ryan Weld say the governor should resign. The governor is not going to listen, and he is not going to resign,” Weld said.

“What he needs to do is start being better as governor. For the life of me, I don’t understand why he seems so intent on making everyone so angry. The minority doesn’t want to work with him, and we don’t have an incentive to work with him.”

He said the legislature’s relationship with Justice is “not good at all.”

“I can’t understand why he picks these fights. They are wholly and completely unnecessary,” Weld said. “The governor’s ego is what is causing the biggest rift. He is mad at us (Senate Republicans) and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, because we have a plan to attempt to reform education in the state.

“What is his plan? He hasn’t come to us with one…. If he has a plan, now is the time to present it. But I’ve yet to hear anything from him on a plan.”

Weld said Justice often boasts of his accomplishments as governor, but these accomplishments wouldn’t have happened had state lawmakers not brought him the needed legislation for him to sign.

“The long and short of it is you have to fight the fights worth fighting, and these are unnecessary fights not worth fighting,” Weld said. “It doesn’t help the state. It doesn’t help the office or the governor, and it doesn’t help anything.”

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said Senate leadership has had problems with the governor’s office.

“I don’t like speaking for others, but my observation is the Senate’s relationship with the governor is not good,” Maroney said. “The vast majority of us do not have respect for the governor as a leader, and have no faith at the moment in him as a leader.”

Maroney said he does, however, have a tremendous amount of respect for Blair.

“Leaders lead… they just don’t change their opinions on matters based on the audience,” Maroney said. “That’s the problem with Gov. Justice — no one ever knows just where he is at.

“What Sen. Blair said is not too far-fetched, and not out of line with how people feel.”

Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said he doesn’t think it’s necessary for Justice to resign.

“He just needs to get in line with what we’re trying to do, and that’s reforming public education in the state,” Clements said. “People have made comments that Sen. Blair wants the governor to resign so Senate President Carmichael could become governor. I don’t believe that.

“We’ve just seen no leadership out of the governor. He has never come in and said what his plans are. One day he says one thing, and another day he says something else. I just think it would be better if he would get in line with us, and make compromises with what we would like to see.”

Justice’s business dealings and failure to pay taxes also shine “a bad light on the state,” according to Clements.

“I figure he will have a hard time getting re-elected anyway,” Clements said of Justice.

In the House, Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, said resignation by Justice is unnecessary as the 2020 election year approaches.

“There’s going to be an election next year, and I’m sure the electorate can determine whether he should be re-elected,” McGeehan said. “It’s a bit premature.

“For now we need to slow down and focus in on the work we need to do with regard to policy, and cut down on inflammatory rhetoric. It doesn’t solve anything.”

McGeehan termed Justice “an easy target” for criticism by many.

“It’s seems like it’s becoming more popular to attack the governor, and maybe that’s because he is a down to earth guy who talks a little differently,” McGeehan said. “He switched parties, and it seems people don’t like him. The Republican establishment doesn’t care for the guy.

“Personally, I’m just trying to work with the governor’s office to focus on roadways because that’s what the majority of people want accomplished. He has started to zero in on roadways, but it hasn’t been accomplished by a long shot. It’s difficult to produce those kind results when you have this kind of acrimony.”

He described Blair “as a bit of a loose cannon, and a hot head.”

“He should think before he speaks,” McGeehan said.