CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Coal magnate Jim Justice was sworn in Monday as West Virginia’s governor, the 34th man to hold the post over a century and a half.
Elected as a Democrat in his first run for statewide office at age 65, Justice then outlined some proposals to help West Virginia’s teachers, highways, jobs, tax receipts, forestry and manufacturing.
In a speech before more than 500 people outside the Capitol, where he was sworn in for the second time Monday, ceremonially, Justice also promised to do everything he can to help the state’s poor and rid it of a drug epidemic.
“We’ve got to have jobs. We’ve got to have hope. We’ve got to have opportunity,” Justice said. “We’ve got to find a way to raise revenue. We can’t just kick the can down the road.”
West Virginia’s teachers need to be paid more, he said, citing 600 classrooms where the state can’t field a teacher. He proposed returning school control locally from the bureaucracy in Charleston. He questioned why bureaucrats have increased exponentially since the 1980s while enrollment has dropped by roughly half to 277,000
Justice called for a federal environmental subsidy for the state’s many forests for sequestering carbon with a percentage paid for manufacturing hardwood products that continue holding carbon, which is considered a culprit in global warming. Justice said he’s friends with President-elect Trump’s family and believes there will be measures coming from Washington to help West Virginia.
He said state taxes on coal mining and natural gas drilling should be tiered. The state doesn’t need to be a Third World country where resources leave and it’s left “holding the bag,” he said.
“Coal and gas are the 800-pound gorillas in the room,” Justice said. “When companies are really hurting, I say we try and help. On the other hand, when the companies are really winning, we’ve got to get more, too.”
Justice, who owns coal mines, farms and other businesses now run by his two children, has said he’ll put them into a blind trust and focus on governing for the sake of the state’s 1.8 million people. He defeated Republican Senate President Bill Cole to win a four-year term.
Justice proposed finding $225 million in state money that he said could be parlayed through financial markets into a billion-plus-dollar highways program that would create 25,000 new jobs.
The 6-foot-7 Justice, an outgoing, nearly larger-than-life figure, sat in the Capitol rotunda afterward with West Virginia’s other statewide elected officials to greet the public in a reception line that stretched down a long hallway and out the door. He planned to attend a Monday evening celebration at the Greenbrier Resort he owns in White Sulphur Springs.
He again proposed boosting tourism business with more advertising and promotion. A hunter and fisherman, he has advocated protecting nature while encouraging industry in West Virginia.
Justice was applauded before he spoke and afterward.
“I liked his speech. He hit on drugs and education,” said Fred Curry, who came from nearby Lincoln County to watch the inauguration. Drugs are a tremendous problem in West Virginia. We’ve got to do something about them now.”
He follows Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who followed Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator.