CHARLESTON – There is an old saying in agriculture: “The best fertilizer is the footprint of the farmer.”
In other words, you must show up for the job to do the job.
It’s just as true in state government. That surely was evident to the state’s founders who wrote the state of West Virginia’s Constitution. Many of those early leaders were farmers, and they created West Virginia’s constitutional provision that the governor must reside at the seat of government. They wanted to make sure the governor would be a full-time governor and not just a figurehead. They wanted an elected leader who was ultimately responsible for the well-being of the state and its citizens.
We will forever recognize June 5 on our calendars as a sad day for West Virginia. That’s when a circuit judge is scheduled to hear a case on whether Jim Justice is violating the West Virginia Constitution by failing to reside in Charleston, the seat of government. This never was a question for any other governor I can remember.
The legal question at hand is whether he should be required to live in Charleston rather than at his home in Greenbrier County, but it represents a much more serious question: Is this man working full time in his elected job to run the state? Far too seldom is he seen at the Capitol, which would explain why so many problems have gotten out of hand on his watch.
Just think about our horrible roads as one example. Jim Justice has written three state budgets and participated in three legislative sessions with no concrete action to deal with upkeep and maintenance. Once the problems became apparent to the general public, he took knee-jerk steps and blamed former governors for the conditions of the roads. He had plenty of time to take meaningful action – and maybe if he had been working as a full-time governor, he would have understood the depth of the road crisis.
Consider also the crisis in our public education system. The state could well have been on its way to solving problems that started a year ago if there was leadership from the top. Instead, legislators are struggling in a vacuum of executive leadership through an indefinite special session after failing to find consensus during their regular session marked by the second teachers’ strike in two years.
And when flooding and other natural disasters hit the state, past governors took direct, hands-on approaches to relief efforts. But with Jim Justice’s hands-off approach, our flood issues have gone from bad to worse. Justice has provided no direction or leadership, and we recently learned Appalachia Service Project may be cutting ties to the recovery efforts because of a lack of action from our state government.
Even if the court throws out the suit against the Justice, how sad is it that this question even comes before the court? No one ever questioned if Arch Moore, Jay Rockefeller, Gaston Caperton, Cecil Underwood, Bob Wise, Joe Manchin or Earl Ray Tomblin were full-time governors. They all understood the significant responsibility of being governor, and they understood it is a full-time job; other than your family, it must be your sole focus.
The state of West Virginia is not a subsidiary of Justice Enterprises, and our state is missing the footprint of our current governor.
Thrasher is a Republican running for governor of West Virginia. He started The Thrasher Group in 1983 and grew it from a three-person business to one that employs 700 people across 11 offices in seven states.