If It’s Good for West Virginia …

In 1953, a General Motors CEO being considered for a high government post was asked how he’d handle conflicts of interest. Reportedly he replied that “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

The same thing might be said of Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia, and it probably is the best explanation of his decision last week to change his voter registration from Democrat to Republican.

Ask yourself what the change did for Justice the politician. Neither party’s leadership is particularly fond of Justice, who has gone out of his way to ridicule — not just criticize, but belittle — both Republican and Democrat legislators. Remember, he gained the Democrat nomination for governor by defeating two establishment candidates, former state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. Then he thrashed the GOP nominee, then-Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer.

Justice is, as I’ve said many times, West Virginia’s answer to President Donald Trump. Both were elected as anti-establishment candidates who defied conventional wisdom by running not as the standard-bearer of one party, but as enemies of both.

As far as party loyalty goes, Justice has none. For years, he was a registered Republican. Then, in 2015, he switched to become a Democrat. Just a coincidence that months later, he would run for governor as a Democrat, I’m sure.

But now he’s back in the GOP fold, officially, at least. Why? Because it brings him closer to Trump than before. That’s good for West Virginia — and it’s good for Justice.

Recall that Justice and the Trump family were acquainted before either man gained office. That personal relationship has continued.

But there’s nothing like appearing to go out on a limb to do a friend a much-needed favor to cement a relationship. Trump, lacking the success he’d hoped for in Congress, needed something he could chalk up as a victory. Convincing a Democrat governor to switch parties qualifies.

So, my good friend Gov. Justice, what can I do for you?

Justice wants the government to pay electric utilities $15 a ton for Appalachian coal they burn in power plants. He has said top Trump administration figures have expressed interest in the idea.

Most people aren’t aware of it, but much of the coal burned in eastern power plants comes from surface mines in Wyoming and other western states. It’s cheaper and, in some ways, better for meeting environmental standards. Encouraging power plants in our region to burn more eastern coal — in part through the subsidy and also by relaxing EPA regulations — could do a world of good for eastern mining companies and Appalachian miners.

It would cost the government $4.5 billion a year, some have estimated. Critics say that’s an outrageous subsidy for one sector of the energy industry. I don’t recall them making the same complaint while former President Barack Obama was feeding billions to the wind- and solar-power industries, but that’s another story.

The beauty of Justice’s plan is that he happens to be one of those big eastern mining magnates. His son now is managing Justice mines in, if I recall correctly, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

So if it’s good for the Appalachian region, it’s good for Jim Justice.

And don’t forget, Justice also is involved heavily in agriculture and resorts. Yes, the same kind of resorts Trump owns.

The two men have a lot in common, including, interestingly enough, a Russian connection. In 2009, Justice sold his mines to a Russian firm. In 2015, he bought them back, reportedly for a fraction of what the Russians paid a few years earlier.

During the past week, I’ve heard any number of speculations on why Justice switched parties (again). But the self-interest angle makes the most sense.

Oh, and don’t forget: As matters stand, it won’t hurt at re-election time for Justice to be viewed by many Mountain State voters as Donald Trump’s very good friend.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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