West Virginia governor, a Democrat, to switch to Republican

The Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday he’s switching parties to join Republicans as President Donald Trump visited the increasingly conservative state.

Justice told about 9,000 Trump supporters at a rally in Huntington that he will be changing his registration Friday. He recently visited the White House twice with proposals on manufacturing and coal, neither he nor Trump are politicians and they both ran to get something done, he said.

“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone. He’s got real ideas,” Justice said. “He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Trump said they spoke a few weeks ago about working together to open coal mines and create jobs in furniture manufacturing and other forms of manufacturing. “But Gov. Justice did something else very important tonight. He showed the country that our agenda rises above left or right,” he said.

Justice was elected in November with just 49 percent of the vote, 20 percentage points behind Trump’s total in the presidential contest in the state. Trump won 77 percent of West Virginia’s Republican primary voters in May.

The president promised throughout the campaign to resurrect the lagging coal industry that has declined amid changing energy markets, leaving many West Virginia communities devastated. The industry and many of its workers have blamed the decline mostly on former President Barack Obama and his environmental policies.

Justice’s defection leaves Democrats with just 15 governors among 50 states.

In West Virginia, his jump is another blow for Democrats in a state they once ran without opposition. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and state Treasurer John Perdue will be the remaining statewide elected Democrats. Manchin is up for re-election in 2018, one of 10 Democratic senators running in states Trump won, a dynamic that gives Democrats an uphill path to reclaiming a Senate majority.

Manchin said he’ll always be a West Virginia Democrat and was disappointed by Justice’s decision but said he’ll work with anyone regardless of party affiliation to benefit West Virginians.

Elected in his first run for statewide office, Justice is a 66-year-old businessman whose family owns farms and coal mines who largely funded his own campaign against then West Virginia Republican Senate President Bill Cole. He has spoken often during the campaign and since publicly about his friendship with the Trump family and hosted Donald Trump Jr. turkey hunting and trout fishing earlier this year.

Justice has turned the daily business operations over to his children while governor. He battled the Republican-controlled Legislature in his first year to limit budget cuts to Medicaid and to state colleges and universities, sometimes with public theatrics like bringing cow manure to a press conference.

He said Thursday that it was the defection of minority Democrats that resulted in outcomes that hurt people. He said both his parents were staunch Republicans. “Today I tell you as West Virginians I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor,” he said.

Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead said the increases in Republican registration and elected officials show people in the state want change. “We welcome all West Virginians to the Republican ranks,” he said.

“We’re eager to work with Gov. Justice to apply our team’s conservative principles to the executive branch and make a clean break from the status quo that has dominated the previous two administrations,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said.

In the national debate over health care, Justice expressed worries about future health coverage for 175,000 West Virginians in the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, but declined to push to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” He said he believes Republicans and Democrats will “get it right” when they work together to overhaul the law.

Rep. Evan Jenkins, who switched from Democrat to Republican and won a U.S. House seat in 2014, said at a meet-and-greet in Huntington before the rally that “so many people in recent years have switched from Democrat to Republican, and if Jim Justice is making the switch, I welcome him to the Republican Party.”

Jenkins is now running for Manchin’s seat.

In May 2015, when he announced his candidacy, Justice said he wanted to put aside partisan politics and that he had changed his party registration multiple times. “I am much more suited to be a Democrat because I truly want to be the person who is trying to take up for the little guy,” he said.””

In this March 22, 2017 file photo, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a town hall meeting, at WSAZ’s studio in Huntington, W. Va. Justice is switching parties to join Republicans as President Donald Trump plans a visit to the increasingly conservative state. Justice’s plans were confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday, Aug. 3, by a Democratic Party official with knowledge of his plans. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP, File)

SportsPlus

Local News

Louisiana Democrats thank Biden, support Harris as new nominee

Local News

Construction on 46-unit Mid-City Lofts begins next month

Local News

Daily showers, thunderstorms expected this week

Crime

7/22: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

McNeese Sports

New-look Cowboys picked sixth

Local News

Harris praises Biden’s ‘unmatched’ legacy, looks to lock up the Democratic nomination

Business

Tellurian to be acquired by Woodside Energy Group in $900M all-cash payment

Crime

LSU cornerback arrested on accusation of video voyeurism, authorities say

Local News

Secret Service acknowledges denying some past requests by Trump’s campaign for tighter security

Local News

Biden wants to pass baton to Kamala Harris

Local News

BREAKING: Biden drops out of race

Local News

Secret Service chief noted ‘zero fail mission,’ facing calls to resign

Local News

Students explore possible careers in athletic training

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column:Constitution plan resurrected

high-school Sports

New concession stand added to plans for football stadium

life

Community rallies to support 3-year-old with brain tumor

Business

Jeff Davis School Board agrees to ITEP for solar facility project

Local News

Police Jury considers increases to grass ordinance fees

Local News

Qualifying ends, ballots set for November election

Local News

American Press winner of eight Louisiana Press Association awards

Local News

Allen Parish flood maps available for review

Local News

Ten Commandments won’t go in Louisiana classrooms until at least November as lawsuit plays out

Local News

Airlines, businesses hit by global technology disruption

McNeese Sports

Long road to McNeese