(UPI) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced he will switch parties, leaving the Democrats and joining the Republicans.
“The Democrats walked away from me,” Justice said at a rally in Huntington, W. Va., With President Donald Trump in attendance.
“Today I will tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor. So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Speaking at the rally, Trump said Justice’s switch was proof that his agenda “rises above left or right.”
“It’s an agenda for all of the people, especially for the tens of millions of forgotten Americans. They’re not so forgotten anymore,” he said.
Justice, a billionaire who made his fortune from his family’s massive farming operations, as well as through coal and real estate, ran for governor in 2016 as a conservative Democrat who refused to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The strategy helped him beat his Republican opponent, Bill Cole, by 7 percent of the vote.
Given his conservative streak, prolific support for the coal industry he invests in and personal relationship with the president’s family — he has been on hunting trips with Trump’s sons and considers the Trumps to be personal friends — Justice’s step into the GOP aisle is not necessarily indicative of a leap in terms of political ideology. But Democrats were still taken aback by the announcement.
“We are sitting here in our office, everyone of us that is capable of standing on two feet, looking at each other saying, ‘oh my goodness, did anybody see this coming?” Steve Roberts, a Democrat and president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce who has worked for Justice in the past, said.
Roberts added: “I am surprised. However, when I worked with Gov. Justice during the last session of the legislature, I could plainly see that he is a pragmatist who is trying to get things done and is not driven by ideological or party loyalty. And he has a close connection to the Trump family and it is my hope that this will further solidify a national attention in favor of policies that will help economic development, job creation and education in West Virginia.”
The Democratic Governors Association blasted the move.
“Jim Justice deceived the state of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat eight months ago,” DGA Executive Director Elizabeth Pearson wrote in a statement. “West Virginians have learned that they simply can’t trust Jim Justice. He will always put his financial interests above the needs of West Virginians.”
With Justice’s departure, the DGA now have only 15 sitting Democrat governors throughout the country.
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