West Virginia Democratic gov nominee Salango starts bus tour

West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Salango, speaks during a stop Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, outside the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Salango has embarked on a statewide tour that will take him to 11 cities in three days. He faces Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Justice in November. (AP Photo/John Raby)

By JOHN RABY Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango embarked on a statewide bus tour Wednesday with stops planned in 11 cities over three days as he tries to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Justice in November.

The tour started in Beckley and is set to finish Friday in Shepherdstown.

“It’s exciting. I want to get out and see the people,” Salango said while wearing a face mask at a stop outside the state Capitol in Charleston.

Salango railed on what he felt were Justice’s shortcomings, including time spent outside of Charleston during his term and what Salango called a delayed reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

The top of Justice’s campaign website has a photo of him with President Donald Trump, who carried West Virginia by a whopping 42 percentage points in 2016. Earlier this month, Justice hosted Vice President Mike Pence at The Greenbrier resort owned by the governor.

Justice won office as a Democrat in 2016, but switched parties at a rally with Trump the following year.

“He touts his relationship with the president a lot,” Salango said. “But I haven’t seen the benefit of it in West Virginia. So if there is a very close relationship, you would think that we would have a lot more federal projects coming in, we’d be doing a lot more here. I understand he touts that. He brags about it all the time. I want to see the results.”

While Justice campaign spokesman Clay Sutton did not indicate what specific federal projects have been brought to West Virginia, he said Wednesday that Salango “does not support the President and is openly working against President Trump.”

Salango said he’ll work with the next president — whoever that is.

Justice has a net worth estimated at $1.5 billion under a portfolio of coal and agricultural interests that have been the subject of multiple lawsuits over unpaid debts and safety fines.

In addition, an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by a Democratic lawmaker accuses Justice of violating a state Constitution requirement that the governor reside at the seat of government. The case has underscored criticisms that Justice is inattentive as governor. Justice has called the lawsuit “a total waste of time.”

Justice has said he lives in Lewisburg, not at the governor’s mansion. But he has spent much of this year in Charleston as he deals with the pandemic.

Salango said voters must make sure that they view Justice’s performance over his entire term, not the last few months.

“They need to ask themselves the question: If he was their employee, would they hire him?” Salango said. “If you had an employee that took the first three years off and then finally showed up for work, would you rehire them? And the answer is no.

“I’ll be a governor about public service, not self service.”

Sutton said the governor gains nothing personally from his job. He said Justice drives his own car, buys his own gas and donates his salary to charity.

“In the past three years, Governor Justice has spent his time making West Virginia a better place to live,” Sutton said.

Justice has held news conferences each week, touting the work of his administration in keeping the number of positive virus cases and deaths low compared with other states.

“I’ve been disappointed with the fact that he’s been very reactive rather than proactive,” Salango said. “A lot of the plans seem kind of off the cuff. He doesn’t have the entire team at the table.”

Salango singled out plans to reopen public schools on Sept. 8 without significant input from teachers, parents and school service workers.

Sutton replied that Salango, a Kanawha County commissioner, has been involved in questionable budget decisions involving the county health department.

“West Virginians cannot afford the risk of electing someone with the inexperience of Ben Salango during a health crisis,” Sutton said.

According to the most recent state campaign finance reports, Justice has outspent Salango more than 2 to 1, although Salango’s campaign has received about $988,000 in contributions, compared with $700,000 for Justice.

Salango and Justice have a televised debate scheduled on Oct. 13.