Political News

Who is Jim Justice, the West Virginia governor who switched parties?

Posted August 3

James C. Justice II, the governor of West Virginia, ended his two-year stint as a Democrat on Thursday night at a campaign rally in his home state with President Donald Trump.

Forbes pegs Justice's net worth at $1.6 billion, enough to make him West Virginia's richest man and only billionaire.

In 2016, the more than 6--foot tall 66-year-old businessman jumped from a long life in coal and agriculture to try out the public sector: as the state's top executive.

Like Trump, Justice -- a first-time candidate with no government experience -- was successful in his pursuit of one of the highest offices in the country.

His political affiliation -- also like Trump's -- has been in flux. In 2015, Justice changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat and announced his bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor. In the past, he had also been registered as an independent.

Justice went on to defeat both his primary opponents with 51.3% of the vote. Throughout 2016, he refused to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, running as a conservative Democrat and touting his plans to boost the state's waning coal industry. Justice soundly defeated his Republican opponent in the general election by 7 points, even while Trump won the state by 42 points.

Before earning his master's degree in business administration, Justice attended West Virginia's Greenbrier Military Academy as a postgraduate. Now, he owns Greenbrier's most famous resort: the Greenbrier Hotel, known for hosting countless presidents and harboring a Cold War bunker. Justice rescued the property from bankruptcy in 2009 with a down payment of $20.1 million. It's just one of his many resorts and country clubs.

Justice joined the family coal business, Bluestone Industries, in 1976. A year later, he began to dabble in agriculture and launched Justice Family Farms, which now harvests corn, wheat and soybeans in four states.

The seven-time national corn-growing champion officially became president and CEO of the family business upon his father's death in 1993. Justice served as president and CEO of more than 100 companies before 2016, according to the governor's website.

In 2009, Justice sold off his family's West Virginia coal mines to various groups, including one of Russia's leading mining and metal companies. He would reacquire several of these mines six years later, citing concern for hundreds of laid-off miners. Justice's mining companies owe $15 million in unpaid taxes in six states, as NPR reported last year, accruing much criticism from then-fellow Democrats.

Since taking office, Justice has vetoed proposed budget cuts passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and offered his own budget to create jobs in infrastructure. In proposing higher taxes and defending the coal industry, Justice has blurred the conventional partisan lines in the state capitol. In a state devastated by the opioid epidemic, Justice has declined to push to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Recent polling indicates Justice remains popular in West Virginia. He lives in Lewisburg, West Virginia, with his wife and two kids.

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