ICYMI: ‘Big Jim’ and Babydog Go to Washington? [The New York Times]

The New York Times: ‘Big Jim’ and Babydog Go to Washington? 
By Campbell Robertson
October 15, 2023

Key Points:

  • Some in Charleston, the state capital, insist that the Republican primary next spring is the race to watch.

  • Mr. Justice will be facing U.S. Representative Alex Mooney, a doctrinaire conservative who has bashed the governor.

  • In his seven years in office, Mr. Justice has been criticized and even sued for spending little time in Charleston; lawmakers have grumbled about his devotion to coaching high school basketball while running a poor, shrinking state with no end to chronic challenges.

  • Reporters have traced the blurred lines between Mr. Justice’s public endeavors and private family empire while also chronicling the empire’s perpetual delinquency: pursued for hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid fines, judgments and other obligations by retired coal miners, multinational banks, neighboring states and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

  • Banks have sought to have the governor’s salary garnished; in court filings, creditors have accused his companies of fraud; and the state auditor’s office has auctioned off dozens of his tax-delinquent properties.

  • Mr. Justice…did not reply to several requests for a response or an interview.

  • In 2019, county Republican committees passed no-confidence resolutions in the governor, and a growing number of Republican lawmakers said publicly that they couldn’t trust him. Craig Blair, who would later become president of the State Senate, wrote in a column that Mr. Justice should resign, calling him a “deadbeat” and an “embarrassment.”

  • In 2021 he announced the “Do It for Babydog”  sweepstakes. The sweepstakes cost more than $20 million in federal Covid funds and attracted official scrutiny, as did other some other expenditures, such as the transfer of $28 million in unspent federal Covid funds to the governor’s discretionary fund, which in turn spent millions on things like a new baseball stadium at Marshall University, Mr. Justice’s alma mater.

  • Nearly a quarter of jobs in the Department of Health and Human Resources are unfilled, and vendors owed millions have been kept waiting for months. Alone among states, West Virginia’s child poverty rate grew substantially in the most recent figures. West Virginia University, facing a $45 million deficit, is cutting dozens of programs and more than 140 faculty positions.

  • “Justice’s strategy at this point is to hold the state together with a piece of Scotch tape and pray for the best,” Mr. DiStefano said.

  • The Justice family businesses are not in great shape either. He is no longer a billionaire nor the state’s richest person, according to Forbes. While the financial disclosure form filed for his Senate campaign listed at least $1.2 billion in assets, only a tiny fraction of that was liquid, and his list of liabilities ran well into the tens of millions. The collection efforts of his creditors are growing more aggressive, with the Justice companies’ own lawyers having to explain missed deadlines as “the result of institutional dysfunction and negligence.”

  • “We don’t have a whole lot of money,” Summer Deane, a vice president in one of the Justice companies, said in a deposition taken last year. “It’s just one of those things where you start the month out with not much money, you have all these transactions and money is gone-as-soon-as-we-get-it-type thing.”

  • A Senate campaign is likely to just complicate things, drawing a new level of scrutiny to the state’s problems and providing leverage to Mr. Justice’s hungry creditors.

  • At a briefing in early October, Mr. Justice parried questions about his family businesses […] That same day, in a federal case involving a creditor who was owed more than $8 million, a court ordered U.S. marshals to seize a Justice company helicopter.


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