Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. May 15, 2024.

Editorial: The effects of Jim Justice’s business decisions

The New York Times published an article this week laying out some of the massive business, loan and legal debts Gov. Jim Justice or his family businesses have amassed and failed to pay. This isn’t news to anyone in West Virginia.

The Gazette-Mail and numerous other state news outlets have endlessly reported on the issue, including Justice’s penchant for getting a debt, legal settlement or payment owed to a vendor lowered in court, and still refusing to issue one cent.

The Times piece concludes with an anecdote around this pattern that is both heartbreaking and infuriating:

“Thomas Link, 59, who owns a small excavating business, was hired to perform some work for Justice-owned businesses in 2021. People told him he would regret doing business with the Justices, but, he said, he was approached by the governor himself. Several months later, Mr. Link was broke.

“‘I told you so’: that’s all I heard,’ he said.

“On April 24, after a year and a half of litigation, the Justice company settled with Mr. Link, agreeing to pay him a fraction of the hundreds of thousands he says he was owed. The company defaulted on the first settlement payment.”

In some ways, this is such a typical story around a business associated with Justice and his family. These entities default on payments all the time, it seems. In a lot of those cases, though, it’s hard to picture or relate to the aggrieved party, because it’s usually another large, faceless business, bank or government agency.

Sure, there exists a sense of outrage or disbelief when comparing what Justice is able to get away with to what would happen to most ordinary people if they didn’t pay their taxes or their mortgage or their bills. But that just affirms what most already assume about the rich and powerful being held to a different, looser standard.

Reports on lapses in health insurance coverage for employees and retirees of Justice-owned businesses in this publication and others have certainly shown the human toll of shady or inept business practices. At least those situations tend to get resolved, even if only to recur.

But there’s something about Link’s story that is, perhaps, even more relatable.

Empathizing with an ordinary person being approached for a job, doing the work and then not getting paid isn’t difficult. Then, consider that it’s the governor of the state, who happens to be a supposed billionaire, offering the work. For all the words of warning and everything else that could be said about him, Justice, like most conmen, is a charismatic guy. Turning him down probably isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Perhaps Link’s story hits as more tragic because it shows how casually Justice or one of his businesses can come along and completely ruin someone’s life and livelihood. Getting stiffed and going broke aside, absolutely no one wants to spend 18 months in court just to try to get someone to abide by the most basic agreement of paying for services provided.

Of course, Link’s experience also begs the question of how many other people Justice or one of his companies treated this way.

It’s not hard to imagine there are many similar stories from small-business owners around West Virginia. But, for Justice, as he said in a recent news conference, everything seems to work out.


The Herald-Dispatch. May 11, 2024.

Editorial: Marshall seeks growth by making admission process easier

It’s graduation season for high schools and colleges. Some graduates know what they will be doing next month or this fall, while some won’t. Many will go into the workforce or the military, while some will continue their education at a trade school, a community college, a four-year college or a university.

As one person in economic development said many years ago, legislatures make laws, but your competition makes the rules. The old rule has been that a person wanting to attend college must fill out an application and pay a fee before that college would accept him or her. Marshall University is changing that rule.

This past week, Marshall and Cabell County Schools launched the Cabell Commitment to simplify the admission process for graduates of the two public high schools in Cabell County. Marshall will automatically accept any graduating student from Huntington High School, Cabell Midland High School and the Cabell County Career and Technology Center with a GPA of 2.5 or greater. The program eliminates the traditional application process.

“This new commitment ensures that deserving students in Cabell County have a direct pathway to a four-year degree without the usual complexities of the application process. Our goal is to make higher education more accessible and to empower local talent,” Marshall President Brad D. Smith said. “Ensuring guaranteed college admission is not just an investment in individuals but a commitment to investing in our local community, state, and nation.”

Marshall will notify eligible students through official letters. University officials say they expect about 515 Cabell County high school students will be eligible for acceptance through the program.

If the Cabell County partnership works out, there’s no doubt Marshall will expand it to other counties. Having spent most of his career as an executive in the private sector, Smith knows about acquiring and keeping market share. As the number of high school graduates is expected to decrease in the coming years, Marshall will need to adapt before other schools do.

This also puts a burden on high schools, which must show that their 2.5-GPA graduates are capable of college-level work — basic preparation in subject matter, time management, maintaining a school-work balance and the ability to handle the distractions that come with college life.

The higher education marketplace is changing. Private schools are having a difficult time adapting. Two in West Virginia have closed in the past decade. While state-supported universities are not in such trouble — yet — change will be necessary. Putting up fancy new buildings isn’t the answer. Making admission less complicated and then justifying the investment of time and money students put into their education is.


The Intelligencer. May 13, 2024.

Editorial: Justice Shifting the Blame to Lawyers

Gov. Jim Justice and state Department of Human Services Secretary Cynthia Persily have shifted tactics regarding a 14-year-old Boone County girl found dead in what law enforcement officers described as a “skeletal state.”

They’re throwing the lawyers under the bus.

Walking back his April 23 statement that Child Protective Services workers had been unaware of the circumstances behind the girl’s death, Justice now says he had been given bad information.

“I would tell you what I told you two weeks ago to the very best of all the abilities I have in me was 100% accurate. Will I stand behind what was said two weeks ago now that I know the information that I know today? No way,” Justice said.

After reporting last month, family members told multiple reporters that CPS had been contacted about the girl. Now, Justice says attorneys for DoHS did not tell him the truth. “We’ve got basically attorneys that are with DHHR and they screw it up, and then when they give us information, then we’ve got to act on the information that they give us, and that’s exactly what happened,” Justice said.

Meanwhile, media outlets still have no way of shedding more light on the story, because Persily and the DoHS continue to pretend their hands are tied.

“Our lawyers have traditionally interpreted the state and federal statutes as us not being allowed to just disclose any information except to very limited groups,” Persily said.

She’s shifted the narrative to this being a matter of interpretation by lawyers. In fact, despite the federal law allowing for states to authorize limited access to information as long as state officials guarantee the safety and wellbeing of children and parents/guardians, Persily doubled down, saying the state does what it needs to meet federal standards.

“Our interpretation of fulfilling the federal requirement about reporting fatalities has been that our critical incident report that we provide annually fulfills that federal requirement,” Persily said.

What? Remember, the DoHS lawyers doing the interpreting are the same bunch blamed by Justice for provided bad information. So, who do we trust? Who can West Virginia children rely upon to be on their side?

Time will surely tell. But lawmakers must waste no time amending state code to make it clear to the lawyers West Virginia protects children, not those who would harm them, or those who fail to fulfill their responsibility to stop it, if they can.