Connecting state and local government leaders
“Today,” the governor told a crowd gathered for a Trump rally, “I will tell you as West Virginians that I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a former Republican who was elected governor as a Democrat in 2016, announced his intention to rejoin the GOP during a rally for President Trump on Thursday evening.
It was a decision hinted at earlier in the day by Trump himself. Speaking to reporters in the White House, Trump promised a “very big announcement” at his rally in Huntington, West Virginia. Justice’s decision was first reported by The New York Times.
West Virginia was at one point a stalwart Democratic state, but in the past several years has gradually become more conservative and now regularly votes Republican at both the state and presidential levels. Although Justice, the West Virginia’s richest man, ran as a Democrat, he did so while vocally distancing himself from Hillary Clinton. Trump went on to win the state by a landslide 42 point margin.
In his remarks at the Huntington rally, the governor framed his decision as one that had been caused in part by his treatment by the Democratic party. “Like it or not like it,” he told the crowd, “the Democrats walked away from me.”
“Today,” the Justice continued, “I will tell you as West Virginians that I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.”
The West Virginia Democratic Party released the following statement in response to Governor Justice’s announcement:
"Jim Justice said he became a Democrat because Democrats care about people. I think we can all guess just who he cares about by his decision today and it’s not the people of West Virginia. During his campaign for governor, Jim Justice said he would never lie to the public; he said he would never be a politician, and he would definitely be a full-time governor. None of those promises were kept.
This isn’t Justice’s first time making a party switch. In May 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that Justice had changed affiliation from Republican to Democrat in earlier that year.
Quinn Libson is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.