James Conley Justice II (born April 27, 1951) is an American businessman and politician who has been serving as the 36th governor of West Virginia since 2017. With a net worth of around $1.2 billion, he is the wealthiest person in West Virginia. He inherited a coal mining business from his father and built a business empire with over 94 companies, including the Greenbrier, a luxury resort in White Sulphur Springs.
|36th Governor of West Virginia|
|Assumed office |
January 16, 2017
|Preceded by||Earl Ray Tomblin|
James Conley Justice II
April 27, 1951
Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
|Political party||Republican (before 2015, 2017–present)|
|Height||6 ft 7 in (201 cm)|
|Residence||Governor's Mansion (official)*|
|Education||Marshall University (BA, MBA)|
|Net worth||US$1.2 billion (2021)|
|Note: Justice resides in Lewisburg, West Virginia and does not live in the official residence.|
In 2015, Justice announced his candidacy for governor in the 2016 West Virginia gubernatorial election. Although Justice was a registered Republican before running for governor, he ran as a Democrat and defeated the Republican nominee, Bill Cole. Less than seven months after taking office, Justice switched back to the Republican Party after announcing his plans at a rally with U.S. president Donald Trump in the state. In the 2020 gubernatorial race, he won re-election over Democratic challenger Ben Salango.
Early life and education
James Conley Justice II was born in Charleston, West Virginia, the son of James Conley Justice and Edna Ruth (née Perry) Justice. Justice grew up in Raleigh County, West Virginia. He enrolled at the University of Tennessee on an athletic scholarship for golf, but transferred to Marshall University. At Marshall, he was a two-year captain on the Thundering Herd golf team. He earned his bachelor's degree and Master of Business Administration from Marshall.
After college, Justice went into the family agriculture business. Justice founded Bluestone Farms in 1977, which now operates 50,000 acres (20,000 ha) of farmland, and is the leading producer of grain on the East Coast of the United States. During that time, he also developed Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in Monroe County. Justice is a seven-time national corn growing champion. After the death of his father in 1993, Justice inherited ownership of Bluestone Industries and Bluestone Coal Corporation. In 2009, he sold some of his coal business to the Russian company Mechel for $568 million. In 2015, after a huge drop in the price of coal which led Mechel to close some of the mines, he bought the business back for just $5 million. Since buying back the mine from Mechel, Justice re-opened several of the mines and hired over 200 coal miners.
Justice's mining companies have been under the spotlight for alleged cases of safety violation and unpaid taxes; in 2016, NPR called him the "top mine safety delinquent" in the United States. Justice allegedly owed millions of dollars to the government in back taxes, and unpaid coal mining fees and fines: "His mining companies owe $15 million in six states, including property and minerals taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, and federal income, excise and unemployment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties, according to county, state and federal records." Two debt-related lawsuits were settled in 2019, and in 2020 mining companies owned by Justice or his family agreed to pay $5 million in delinquent safety fines.
Forbes estimates Justice's net worth at $1.6 billion. Justice serves as the owner or chief executive officer of over 50 companies, including the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, which he bought for $20.5 million in 2009, preventing its bankruptcy. Justice is in the process of building a new mountaintop golf course with golfers Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino. Arnold Palmer was involved before his 2016 death.
As of 2014, he owned 70 active mines in 5 states. His charitable activities have included $25 million for the James C. Justice National Scout Camp at The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, $5 million for Marshall University, and $10 million to the Cleveland Clinic. Justice gives away more than $1 million in Christmas gifts annually through the Dream Tree for Kids campaign.
Before taking office as governor, Justice resigned from all the executive positions he held at his business. He placed his daughter Jill in charge of the Greenbrier and his son Jay in charge of his mining and agriculture businesses. He has said he will place all his assets in a blind trust, but that the process will take time because of their complexity. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Justice and his family's businesses received at least between $11 million and $24 million in aid through the Paycheck Protection Program. His luxury resort, the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation, received a loan of between $5 million and $10 million, but the company did not promise to retain any jobs in exchange for the aid.
As governor of West Virginia, he is in charge of the state agencies that regulate many of his businesses.
2016 gubernatorial election
In 2015, Justice declared his candidacy for Governor of West Virginia in the 2016 election as a member of the Democratic Party. He had been a registered member of the Republican Party until changing his registration in February 2015. This was his first time running for political office. In May 2016, Justice won the Democratic nomination for governor and ran against Republican nominee Bill Cole in the general election. On November 8, Justice won the election.
2020 gubernatorial election
In January 2019, Justice declared his re-election campaign to try to win another term. For his second bid, he ran as a Republican after previously changing his party registration following a 2017 rally with President Donald Trump. During the primaries, he defeated multiple challengers within his party.
Throughout the general election campaign season, he focused on his COVID-19 response, the state's budget surplus, and his work on the substance abuse crisis. Several polls had him winning by a large margin against Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango in the months leading up to Election Day. On November 3, 2020, he defeated Salango in the race for the governorship. With his win, he became the first West Virginian Republican gubernatorial candidate to win since Cecil Underwood in 1996 and the first GOP incumbent to win a second term since Arch A. Moore Jr. in 1976.
The United Mine Workers endorsed Justice's opponent Ben Salango after having previously endorsed Justice in his 2016 gubernatorial campaign. However, Justice did receive the endorsement of the West Virginia Coal Association, saying Justice had "worked to protect the miners, increase coal production, and explore innovative ways to use coal for new products and downstream job opportunities".
Governor of West Virginia
To improve West Virginia's budget situation, he has proposed raising the state's revenue by $450 million, primarily by increasing the consumer sales tax, reinstituting the business and occupation (B & O) tax, and establishing a "rich man's" tax. He also opposed plans to cut health and education spending. On April 13, 2017, while vetoing a budget bill passed by the Republican-controlled West Virginia Legislature, Justice said the bill was "nothing more than a bunch of political you-know-what" and showed a prop featuring bull feces on a print copy of the bill.
On August 3, 2017, Justice announced that he had rejoined the Republican Party. He made the announcement at a rally hosted by President Donald Trump in Huntington and also confirmed his support for the sitting president. Justice said that he was returning to the GOP because he could not support President Trump as a member of the Democratic Party. The announcement came as a surprise to his own staff. This also made Justice the first Republican governor of West Virginia since Cecil Underwood in 2001.
Even after switching to the Republican Party, Justice initially supported incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin for his reelection campaign in the 2018 Senate election in West Virginia. However, later in the general election, Justice endorsed Republican Senate candidate, Patrick Morrisey. In February 2021, when asked by The New York Times if he plans on running against Manchin, Justice said, "No, I’m really not . . . [i]f I can continue to do good stuff for West Virginia, I’m going to do it, and then probably fade off into the sunset."
In 2020 Justice signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which created felony penalties for protests targeting oil and gas facilities. The law, which was passed with the support of Dominion Energy, the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, was described by its sponsor John Kelly as having been "requested by the natural gas industry".
Justice began his gubernatorial campaign and political career as a conservative Democrat. Time identified him as a moderate Democrat. However, as noted above, he switched to the Republican Party a few months after taking office and declared his support for President Donald Trump.
Justice campaigned and has governed with support for the coal industry. He does not support raising taxes but has supported increasing teachers' salaries, arguing that increased state revenue will pay for the increased budget spending. In 2017, Justice said that he opposed budget cuts and supported raising sales taxes. The libertarian Cato Institute gave Justice an "F" grade based on their positions, but Justice voiced his disagreement with the rating. Prior to Justice's party change from Democratic to Republican, Senate President Mitch Carmichael described him as "more Republican in his philosophies. Where he has gotten away from that a little bit is his tax-and-spend policies."
In February 2021, Justice urged Senator Joe Manchin to vote for the $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposed by President Joe Biden, warning against being "fiscally responsible" and adding, "I don't really know exactly what the thinking could possibly be there. I mean, we got people that are really hurting."
Justice had said that he does not support abortion, but that the Supreme Court had decided the issue. Later, Justice attended a rally supporting Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment intended to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. He is considered pro-life and signed two anti-abortion bills into law.
Justice supports gun ownership and limited gun laws. In 2018, Justice signed into a law a bill allowing gun owners to keep their guns locked in vehicles on their employers' property, a bill that was supported by the NRA. He also signed a bill legalizing hunting on Sundays on private land.
Justice stated that he respects the Supreme Court's decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, and that it is settled law. In 2017, Justice opposed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers.
According to the Charleston Gazette–Mail, Justice has equivocated on the scientific consensus on global warming. In a 2016 interview with the paper, he said: "There's documentation that would give one concern, and I don't think you should ignore that", he said. "At the same time, I think there's an awful lot of research that still should be done . . . I surely wouldn't sit here and say I am a believer in global warming, but I wouldn't sit here and say that I am not concerned."
At the beginning of his second term as governor, Justice said he was a believer in alternative energy, pointing to his welcoming of Clearway Energy Group to begin construction of a wind farm, which will increase state wind power by 15%. But he added, "it is frivolous for us to think that today our nation can go forward without coal or without gas. There will be a day we transition away from fossil fuels. But I frankly don’t believe that it is now."
COVID-19 vaccine distribution
West Virginia, despite being one of the poorest states in the nation, was, early on, second only to Alaska in vaccine distribution for COVID-19. However, since then, they have lagged behind the rest of the nation, ranking 40th in percentage of the population covered as of May 6, 2020.
Justice met his wife, Cathy (née Comer) in high school. They have two children, Jay and Jill, and one dog, Babydog. Justice and his wife are members of First Baptist Church in Beckley, WV which is a congregation of the American Baptist Churches USA. He stands at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m). Justice is a lifelong fan of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL), and spent $30 million to develop a training facility for the team to use in 2014 at the Greenbrier. Until 2019, he hosted the Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tour event, at the Greenbrier annually.
Justice lives in Lewisburg, West Virginia. He was sued about his residency by former state house assistant minority whip Isaac Sponaugle, on the basis that Justice is not actually living in the West Virginia Governor's Mansion in Charleston. The state constitution requires the governor to "reside at the seat of government," Charleston. The lawsuit was eventually put before the West Virginia State Supreme Court which denied a motion for a writ of prohibition and Chief Justice Evan Jenkins defined "reside" in terms of statewide officeholders. On March 2, Justice resolved the lawsuit, agreeing to reside in Charleston and paying Sponaugle's legal fees.
Since 1992, Justice has been president of Beckley Little League. His participation has helped the program expand to over 1,000 children playing on 80 teams.
Having lived in Lewisburg since 2001, he has been the girls basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School since 2003, having won the state championship in 2012. In 2011, he also became the head coach for the boys basketball teams, a position from which he stepped down in September 2017. He was the only coach at the AAA level (the state's largest classification) who coached both the girls and boys basketball teams. Justice stated that though he will place his business interests in a blind trust upon becoming governor, he will still coach basketball while serving. In discussing the coaching position, Justice said, "There are three things I know that I can do, and that's shoot a shotgun, make a deal, and coach basketball. I'm excited about it." In February 2020, Justice apologized for calling the Woodrow Wilson High School girls' basketball players "a bunch of thugs" after a heated basketball game between Greenbrier East and Woodrow Wilson.
|Republican||Jim Justice (incumbent)||127,445||63.0%|
|Republican||Shelly Jean Fitzhugh||2,560||1.3%|
|Republican||Jim Justice (incumbent)||497,944||64.77%|
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