Unveiling the New Jim Justice

When covered silver platters were delivered to Republican and Democrat leaders during Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State speech Wednesday night, those watching may have cringed just a bit.

What is the governor upset about now?

But it wasn’t that at all. It was the kinder, gentler Jim Justice, and that may be a very good thing for the Mountain State.

At one point last year, Justice vetoed a budget sent to him by the Legislature. He held a press conference during which he referred to the bill as “nothing more than a bunch of political bull you-know-what.” Then he lifted the cover on a silver platter, to reveal something that looked like manure.

That did not exactly endear the governor to some in the Legislature. Eventually, they passed a budget and he signed it.

But the silver platters handed out Wednesday night were used to convey large, wrapped chocolate candies to Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison; and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.

It was a sort of official peace offering, following up on several months in which lawmakers seem to have gotten along reasonably well with the governor. At least he hasn’t referred to any of them as a “poodle.”

What appears to be Jim Justice Version 2.0 surfaced not long after he switched parties. Elected as a Democrat, he changed to Republican.

At first, Republican legislators seemed both puzzled and, yes, on-guard about the change. Obviously, with Republican President Donald Trump in the White House and the GOP holding majorities in both the state Senate and House, Justice’s switch made sense, however.

It did miff the Democrats, of course. And on Thursday, that party’s leaders were quick to label Justice’s speech a “nothing-burger,” in the words of one. Obviously, they’re not ready to let bygones be bygones.

Justice seems to be, however. Instead of being quick to take offense when legislators don’t do what he wants, the governor appears eager to make amends and try to agree to disagree — rather than to lash out.

Being in the same party as the legislative leadership will help. So will state government’s improved fiscal picture. It has been pointed out financial difficulty and differences of opinion over it are the leading causes of divorce. It’s true of politics, too.

There are tough, emotional, politically critical issues to be faced, though. And it is an election year. There will be plenty of frustrations for the governor.

Will he revert to name-calling? Will his temper get the best of him?

Or was he perfectly in control and acting not out of anger but in a calculated manner when he raised hackles with comments and stunts such as the plattered manure? My guess is the latter.

Justice rode into office on the same anti-establishment wave that put Trump in the White House. In some ways, he was West Virginia’s version of the New York tycoon.

But Trump seems to have recognized that confrontation often just stiffens the resolve of opponents. Did you notice the meeting on immigration last week, at which the president, in effect, said he trusted both parties in Congress to give him a good bill?

Justice, in my opinion, came to the same conclusion months before Trump did. The question now is whether either man will stick to having turned over a new leaf, or will revert.

Again, there are plenty of reasons that could happen with Justice. An example: He’s asking for $20 million more to promote the state. I’ve already heard one Republican question how much of that will be used to promote The Greenbrier. For the record, I think the governor’s idea is a good one, and so what if the famous resort appears in a few advertisements?

Enough such personal criticism, however, and Justice could take back the Hershey’s kisses and resume handing out something else brown.

Let’s hope not. Better for the state if there’s plenty of disagreement — but no hard feelings — at the Capitol.

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