The Governor of West Virginia Is Leaving the Democratic Party and Becoming a Republican

Jim Justice appeared alongside President Trump tonight.

Jim Justice

West Virginia Gov. Jim JusticeSteve Helber/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Jim Justice, the Democratic governor of West Virginia, will announce his switch to the Republican Party when he joins President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in his state this evening. The defection of Justice, a coal baron who was elected easily in 2016, would bring the number of governors mansions under GOP control to 35 and give the party full control of West Virginia’s state government for the first time since before the New Deal.

Justice’s big move is a jolt, but hardly a shocker. He is very much a politician in Trump’s mold. Like the president, Justice is a populist billionaire and a casino-owning golf-course magnate with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and feuding publicly with the state’s Republican leaders. Like Trump, Justice hobnobs with NFL owners; the New Orleans Saints hold their training camp at Justice’s West Virginia resort. A Republican before running for office, he switched parties to run in the Democratic primary but never fully embraced his new digs. During the Democratic primary, he called the prosecution of fellow coal baron Don Blankenship—for conspiracy to commit mine safety violations—a waste of money. His campaign followed a script that will look familiar to anyone who was paying attention last year. As I noted last fall:

He also ran as an unabashed counterweight to national Democrats. He questioned whether climate change was in fact man-made (“I believe there’s an awful lot of scientists that say, ‘No, no, no, this is just smoke and mirrors.’”), promised to work to revive the lagging coal industry, and said he wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. In October, National Public Radio reported that Justice owed $15 million in back taxes. The same report found that Justice had stiffed charities he’d promised money to. Before he’d even entered the race, Justice was dogged by revelations that his companies owed millions of dollars in fines for mine safety violations.

In almost any other state he would have been a Republican, and now he’s made the process complete. It may only be a matter of time before the rest of the state follows suit. Democrats controlled four of the state’s five federal offices, and the entire executive branch, as recently as 2010. Now the lone survivor in a state Trump carried by 42 points is Sen. Joe Manchin. He’s up for re-election next year.

Update (8/3/17, 8PM): Gov. Justice announced tonight his intention to switch parties. See the video from the Washington Post here: 

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate