MORGANTOWN – Woody Thrasher, who Gov Jim Justice forced out as Commerce Secretary last year, is said to be seriously considering running for Governor. Thrasher won’t comment on his possible candidacy, but the smart money is on him getting in the race.
Thrasher was a life-long Democrat, but he changed his party registration to Republican about a month ago, apparently in anticipation of challenging Justice in the 2020 Primary Election. Justice has already declared his intent to run for a second term. Other Republicans who have filed with the Secretary of State’s Office as precandidates are Mike Folk, Rebecca Mareta Henderson and Charles Sheedy Sr.
A Thrasher challenge to Justice would represent a significant shift in what was once a relationship of strong mutual respect. Justice heaped effusive praise on Thrasher when he named him Secretary of Commerce in December, 2016.
“For months and months, I always felt that if I were humbled by the people of West Virginia and elected Governor, without any question, the number one guy I wanted to recruit was Woody Thrasher,” the Governor said in a news release at the time.
Thrasher returned the goodwill, saying, “I wouldn’t have done this for anyone other than Governor-elect Jim Justice.”
However, the relationship soured. Thrasher grew increasingly frustrated with Justice’s management style and Justice blamed Thrasher for delays in the long-term flood relief program. The controversy over the RISE program led the Governor to force Thrasher to resign last June.
Thrasher, who is an engineer by training, started in business with his late father, Henry Thrasher, in 1983. The engineering firm has grown over the years to employ 700 people at 11 offices in seven states.
Thrasher no longer handles the day-to-day operations of the company, but he remains chairman of the board. The business has made him wealthy, and now he finds himself at age 64 with time, money and a desire to play a significant role in West Virginia’s future.
Incumbent Governors usually have little to worry about in the Primary. Party leaders typically try to maintain at least an impression of impartiality, but the skids are greased for the incumbent. Would-be challengers know their campaigns are quixotic. Other aspirants wait for a more opportune time.
However, the Republican foundation under Justice feels less sturdy. After all, he first ran and was elected as a Democrat before switching parties in August, 2017. His decision to commute to work from his Greenbrier County home has opened him up to criticism that he is not acting like a full-time Governor.
That will likely be a point of emphasis for Thrasher, as well as other Republicans who are already in, or planning to get in the race to try to oust Justice.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.