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Justice served a second term as governor

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — He won election in 2016 as a Democrat, but Gov. Jim Justice won re-election Tuesday night as the first elected Republican governor since Cecil Underwood in 1996.

According to unofficial election results compiled by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, Justice defeated his Democratic challenger, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, by more than 31 percentage points.

Justice received 254,610 votes (63.56%) with 19 counties reporting results at press time, while Salango received 128,440 votes (32.06%).

Other candidates receiving votes included Libertarian Party nominee Erika Kolenich with 9,544 votes and Mountain Party nominee Daniel Lutz Jr. with 5,588 votes. The Associated Press called the race for Justice nearly immediately after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.

The governor celebrated his win with family, friends, supporters, and other Republican candidates at the Greenbrier Resort, the historic hotel owned and operated by the Justice family. Taking the stage shortly after the election was called, Justice thanked West Virginians for putting their trust in him once again.

“I just want one thing … and only one thing, and that’s goodness for West Virginia. We’re going somewhere, West Virginia,” Justice said shortly before balloons fell in the ballroom. “God bless each and every one of you. Thank you so much.”

Salango watched Tuesday night’s election results with his family and supporters at his Kanawha Boulevard campaign headquarters in Charleston. Salango called Justice to concede the election and expressed his appreciation for the voters who gave him their votes.

“This election was never about me. It was always about the people of West Virginia,” Salango said during livestreamed remarks. “It was always about trying to bring people together rather than pushing them apart. I got into this race because I wanted to fight for working families to make sure they had a seat at the table.”

Justice, a coal and agriculture magnate who branched out into hotels and resorts, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2016, defeating former Republican senate president and businessman Bill Cole. The owner of 118 different businesses and West Virginia’s only billionaire, Justice switched his party registration in 2017 at the behest of President Donald Trump.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the state in March, Justice largely left active campaigning up to his campaign staff. But Justice has briefed the state nearly every day through live-streamed press conference on the latest coronavirus case numbers, making announcements and fielding questions from reporters.

The free media and near-daily briefings during the COVID-19 crisis largely disarmed past criticisms of Justice, who would travel to the Capitol infrequently from his home in Lewisburg. Polling over the last month showed positive job approval number for Justice and his handling of the pandemic over the last eight months.

While not on the campaign trail, Justice has used the trappings of the Governor’s Office to travel the state to hand out grants and make economic announcements. In the last week alone, Justice handed out 47 grants worth more than $8.6 million for numerous projects.

In the last two months, Justice announced the selection of West Virginia for the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Facility in Tucker County, a methanol manufacturing facility in Pleasants County, a commitment to develop the former Hobet surface mine site for economic development in Boone County, and efforts to encourage rural broadband expansion.

Justice also helped craft a budget with the West Virginia Legislature for the current fiscal year that has weathered the uncertain economic conditions caused by the coronavirus. The state has a $111 million budget surplus with one-third of the fiscal year completed and more than $250 million of cashflow.

The substance abuse crisis in the state has also taken up much of the state’s resources, though the number of overdose deaths due to opioid use has decreased since Justice took office. Justice’s Jobs and Hope West Virginia program has helped 182 people with their substance abuse recovery, helped them learn new skills and find jobs, and helped some get their drivers’ licenses reinstated with one person having their non-violent misdemeanor conviction expunged.

Justice said Tuesday that West Virginia’s rocket ship ride he promised in 2016 was just beginning to exit the launchpad.

“I told you that I was going to take you on a rocket ship ride, and absolutely we’ve done it,” Justice said. “There’s a whole lot more of the ride to go.”

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

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