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Lawmakers React to Justice Call for Virginia Counties to Secede

CHARLESTON — The invitation Tuesday by Gov. Jim Justice and the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. for Virginia counties to leave the Commonwealth and join the Mountain State is one of two other invitations by West Virginia lawmakers.

Justice and Falwell, the president of Liberty University at Lynchburg, Va., held a press conference Tuesday at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg.

Justice pointed to two resolutions working their way through the West Virginia Legislature that have helped drive the conversation about Virginia counties seceding.

“So many people have come up with resolutions that have basically said if you’re not happy where you’re at, come on down,” Justice said.

“I would say exactly just that. If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere you may be.”

State Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan County, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 on Jan. 10 requesting citizens of Frederick County, Va., consider joining West Virginia. That resolution was adopted by the Senate on Jan. 13 and by the House Government Organization Committee on Jan. 16. It is now in the House Rules Committee.

According to the resolution, Frederick was one of three Virginia counties that was invited to join West Virginia in 1862 by the reformed government of Virginia, then headquartered in Wheeling, that approved Virginia’s secession from the Union. Frederick stayed with the Commonwealth, but Berkeley and Jefferson counties voted to join the new State of West Virginia. In a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1870 that affirmed West Virginia’s existence as a state, the invitation to Frederick County to join West Virginia was ruled as still valid.

Speaking Tuesday before the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump said his goal was to help remind the two states of the history behind Frederick County’s invitation. He was surprised to hear that his resolution has created so much buzz.

“For me, the Frederick County resolution was a matter of great historical interest,” Trump said. “It’s true certainly with Frederick County and the counties in the Panhandle, and probably true along the whole border, but there is great affinity and community of interests between the people who live on the West Virginia side and the Virginia side. I think it’s a wonderful conversation for people to have.”

House Government Organization Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, introduced his own resolution to expand the invitation. House Concurrent Resolution 8, introduced Jan. 14, with 42 co-sponsors. HCR 8 invites any Virginia county to join West Virginia as long as West Virginian’s approve of the new county in a special election.

Howell, speaking Tuesday after Justice’s press conference, said people in Fluvanna and Greene counties are considering petitioning their county government to put the option to leave on a ballot. Howell also said attorneys representing officials in Tazewell County have asked the differences between Virginia and West Virginia on taxes, regulations, and pension benefits.

If any county would leave Virginia, it would make the third time in state history: the formation of West Virginia in 1863, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Howell said the 1870 lawsuit between Virginia and West Virginia already sets precedent for Virginia counties to join West Virginia.

“If these counties have cast these votes, it’s kind of hard for the courts to say ‘we see how you voted, but we’re going to ignore it,” Howell said. “In our personal lives, people get divorced because they no longer agree with each other. Maybe it’s time we look at that….may it’s time we go back and look at some of these state boundaries. Do they make sense?”

These efforts are being motivated due to proposed gun control legislation by the Virginia General Assembly, which went to full Democratic Party control after last November’s election. Legislation being proposed includes stricter background checks for firearms purchases, and Red Flag laws to limit who can purchase firearms. Several Virginia counties have declared themselves 2nd Amendment sanctuaries.

The sanctuary movement for gun rights is being led by the national Gun Owners of America and the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Gun rights supporters rallied at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond last week for their annual lobby day opposing the proposed gun control measures. On the Mountain State side of the Potomac River, the West Virginia Citizens Defense League has expressed support for HCR 8.

“The people of West Virginia are strong on the 2nd Amendment, strong on pro-life, and a very conservative state. They see what is happening in Virginia,” Howell said. “Economically, geographically, and socially we have very similar traits to that part of Virginia that is under attack by Richmond. We see a neighbor in distress. We’re offering that helping hand to come join us.”

Woody Thrasher, Justice’s former Commerce Department cabinet secretary and a Republican challenger for governor, echoed the invitation for Virginia counties to join the state. He also called on Justice to relocate his companies from Roanoke, Va., to West Virginia. Court filings claim that Justice companies are headquartered in Virginia, though attorney for Justice’s companies claim that some of those companies moved to Daniels in Raleigh County.

“I support the Second Amendment, and I add my encouragement to those Virginians who love the Constitution to join us here in West Virginia where we respect the right to bear arms,” Thrasher said in a statement Tuesday. “I’d also like to personally invite Jim Justice to locate any of his businesses currently headquartered in Virginia to join us here in our Mountain State as well.”

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