Inauguration of Gov. Justice, state elected officials mark new era
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice laid out an optimistic future for West Virginia on Friday in an all-but-traditional Inaugural Day address as he was sworn in as the first elected Republican governor since 1997.
“Over and over and over, we are showing the world just how great we really truly are,” Justice said. “West Virginia is really on the move. Absolutely in this situation we’re in right now, with the House and the Senate and absolutely all the people behind me, we can really do phenomenal work.”
Justice took the oath of office Friday afternoon for a second term at the helm of the ship of state on the steps on the north side of the Capitol.
The temperature was cold, but the sun was shining on Friday’s event.
The first time Justice took the oath of office in 2017, he was a Democrat.
After switching parties later in 2017 at the urging of former president Donald Trump, Justice won the 2020 general election by a landslide as a Republican. He was the first Republican to do so since Cecil Underwood.
“I never really thought I’d run again. I really didn’t,” Justice said. “I really truly thought if I just gave four years of my life to serve and do it right, that was enough. But there is more to do.”
Justice recounted the many successes during his first term in office.
These include turning around a $500 million budget deficit he inherited in 2017 into budget surpluses in the years after, two years of back-to-back pay raises for teachers and school service personnel, the Roads to Prosperity program and additional focus on secondary road maintenance, new companies, such as Virgin Hyperloop, and other economic opportunities.
While the inaugural ceremonies were meant to be uplifting, there was no escaping the COVID-19 pandemic which has plagued the state since March and claimed the lives of 1,856 West Virginians as of Friday.
Justice talked about the state’s early successes in preventing the worst of the virus spread, the testing of all long-term care residents and staff, and the recent success at getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of West Virginians.
“We absolutely became the nation’s model,” Justice said. “Little West Virginia, that was the poorest and the most backward state of all, became the model of the nation. At the end of the day, West Virginia got it. West Virginia knew this was about age, age, and age. We could not leave vaccines on the shelf. When the vaccines came, we stepped up and got them in people’s arms.”
The event included remarks from state Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, Joint Interagency Task Force Director James Hoyer, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch and State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad.
The three leaders in the state’s coronavirus response paid tribute to the state’s losses, as well as the health officials, essential workers and National Guard members who have tirelessly worked throughout the pandemic.
“During this pandemic and the countless challenges that have been presented to our state, our country, and our world, West Virginia shines,” Marsh said. “I’d like to thank each citizen for their commitment to protecting themselves and each other.”
Friday’s inauguration was ceremonial, typically held the third Monday of January when new terms for statewide elected officials begin following an election year per the state Constitution. Traditionally, the inauguration takes place on the south steps of the Capitol along the Kanawha River. The south steps were closed as renovation wraps up on the Capitol dome.
The inauguration of Justice and members of the Board of Public Works marked the first time Republicans held all six state executive branch offices since the Great Depression. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was sworn in for a third term. Secretary of State Mac Warner, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, and Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt were sworn in for second terms.
Former Jefferson County lawmaker Riley Moore was sworn in for his first term as state treasurer, defeating six-term Democrat John Perdue in the November election and becoming the first elected Republican in that role since 1928. The grandson of former Republican Gov. Arch Moore, Treasurer Moore took his oath while his aunt and cousin, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito, watched from the steps.
Board of Public Works members took their official oaths of office earlier this week. Wednesday marked the first meeting of the Board of Public Works for 2021 and Moore’s first meeting as a member. Also sworn in Friday were three justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Tim Armstead, John Hutchison, and Bill Wooten.
In closing, Justice paid homage to his 2017 inaugural address where he brought a toolbox and a hatchet he bought from a woman at a road stand on his way to Charleston. He keeps that toolbox and hatchet in his vehicle as a reminder of the people he serves.
“When that lady said to me ‘Mister, you don’t have any idea how bad I’m hurting,’ I know how bad she was hurting,” Justice said. “I knew it in my heart, and I knew exactly what my job had to be. I acted. I did it, and absolutely I will continue to remember her and every single person who is hurting in this state, and I pledge to you I will turn every rock to do everything I possibly can to take the pain away and bring goodness to everybody’s life.”
(Adams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)