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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to seek re-election in 2020

January 7, 2019
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice holds a service dog onstage after announcing Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., that he will seek re-election in 2020. (AP Photo/John Raby)
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice holds a service dog onstage after announcing Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., that he will seek re-election in 2020. (AP Photo/John Raby)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Midway through his first term, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says important, long-term matters remain unfinished on his to-do list.

So he announced Monday he’ll seek re-election in 2020.

“The further I go, the more I believe just this: I believe there’s work still to be done,” Justice said in announcing his plans at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center.

This time, he’ll enter the campaign as a Republican. Justice was elected as a Democrat in 2016 in a largely self-funded campaign, then switched to the GOP less than a year later.

Both houses of West Virginia’s Legislature are controlled by Republicans.

Justice said he wanted to end speculation about his candidacy because he’d been asked a lot about it.

“Time goes really fast,” Justice said. “We’ve still got so many challenges in front of us. There’s still so many people to help. That’s exactly what’s driving my decision.”

He offered no details about any new proposals but was adamant about reducing the scourge of drug addiction in the state, which he called “this nagging thumb.” West Virginia by far leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

“There’s too many people out there hurting,” he said. “We’ve got to stop it. It will cannibalize us all.”

Justice signed legislation last year limiting supplies for painkiller prescriptions. Last month he announced the formation of a council of addiction and recovery experts.

Justice formed a task force last year to look for long-term funding solutions for a public employees’ insurance plan and has promised another 5 percent pay increase for state teachers this year, less than a year after teachers won a similar raise following a nine-day strike. He also has proposed infusing $100 million into the insurance plan.

Other accomplishments include major road projects that were approved by voters in 2017 through a $1.6 billion bond referendum. His term has coincided with an economic rebound in West Virginia.

State revenue collections have surpassed tax estimates for eight consecutive months. Collections for the first five months of the fiscal year were $141 million above estimates and 13.2 percent ahead of year-ago receipts.

But the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.2 percent in November was the third highest in the nation behind Alaska and Washington, D.C., and far above the national rate of 3.7 percent. West Virginia’s rate was 5.6 percent when Justice took office in January 2017.

Justice has been reported to be the richest man in West Virginia, with a fortune estimated at $1.9 billion by Forbes magazine. He and his family own coal mines, agriculture businesses and the posh Greenbrier resort.

In August, Justice announced his coal businesses had paid millions of dollars to resolve tax disputes with the state of West Virginia and its counties. He had promised to fix the outstanding issues since shortly after being elected. Similar issues are being worked on with the states of Virginia and Kentucky.

The governor also has been criticized by some Democrats for not being regularly present at the Capitol and for living in Lewisburg despite a constitutional requirement that he reside at the seat of government.

Justice was a political newcomer when he defeated former Senate President Jeff Kessler and ex-U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin in the 2016 Democratic primary, then outlasted Republican Senate President Bill Cole in the general election.

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