CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice did not promise to start living near the Capitol or to immediately make good on his debts today.
Instead, the governor blasted back at Democrats, saying they want him to conduct business as usual while his focus is on big achievements.
“I’m available 24-7, all the time. And you know what I do? I get it done,” Justice said.
The governor showed up at a 9 a.m. news conference about flood relief Friday with two whiteboards, filled with defenses about the way he conducts his job.
“This is going to be really fun for me,” he said as he began.
A whiteboard shows what Gov. Jim Justice says is how he conducts himself.
He was prompted by a Thursday statement from legislative Democrats, calling on him to resign if he can’t be present and focus on the work of being governor.
The state Constitution requires the chief executive to live at the seat of government. Justice continues to make his home in Greenbrier County, almost two hours away.
Justice said it doesn’t matter where he works.
“It doesn’t matter whether I do it in the back of a Suburban or from the top of the dome,” he said.
He said he is available at all hours by telephone and, at one point, asked for his flip phone to be brought to the front of the press conference so he could look up a text that he received.
“There is nothing, nothing that goes on here that I don’t know about. Nothing. This world, believe it or not has cell phones and it has all kinds of neat little things. And that’s what we do. You don’t need me sitting, just waiting for someone to walk by. You need me doing what I’m doing.”
Asked about the legality of what he has chosen to do, Justice deferred to Brian Abraham, general counsel in the Governor’s Office.
“There’s domicile and there’s residence,” Abraham said. “That mansion there, this man right there has furniture in there; it stays there. If he wants to go back to his home in Lewisburg, I know prior governors went back to their homes on weekends and evenings. I’ll tell you, I think he declared this his domicile.”
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, was one of those who had said Justice needs to be more diligent about his duties. Prezioso was a guest Friday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“The person at the top has to take some responsibility,” Prezioso said. “We’ve seen time and time again that this governor doesn’t accept any responsibility. He’s always looking for a scapegoat, and that seems to be his pattern.
“We just got to the point where enough is enough. We’re two years into this term. You’ve got two years to go. We’d expect to have better leadership at the top.”
Prezioso said he does not want to get into a name-calling contest.
“I’m not going to get into that gutter right there. I’m just saying that from this point forward, we need leadership. We’re at a critical juncture in our state. We need to move forward.”
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he too wishes the governor were more present at the Capitol.
“I have to be honest, I wish the governor was there more and more hands on,” Blair said Friday on “Talkline.”
“The governor needs to be involved with what’s going on. He can’t have just one or two people feeding him information. I can tell you right now if I was governor of the state of West Virginia I would be there every day, and I would be having conversations every day with my cabinet secretaries, knowing exactly what was going on and keeping things aimed in the right direction.”
Senator Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said if people don’t like the way Justice is doing his job, an election would be the opportunity to say so.
“The people of West Virginia elected Jim Justice, and I think they’ll be the ultimate arbiters of where he ends up in this,” Gaunch said.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the statement by Democrats is just politics.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” he said on “Talkline. “It’s just playing politics as usual. The governor, I thought, did a great job in his press conference of batting that back.
“We are in the midst of a resurgence, and the governor is presiding over that prosperity.”
He said modern technology has made it so people don’t necessarily have to be at a central location to perform their work functions.
“Whether he’s here or in Lewisburg or at points in between in West Virginia, the job is getting done,” Carmichael said.
“It doesn’t matter to me where he lives. I see him at the office occasionally.
I’m here at the Capitol quite frequently. Technology changes the domicile or the location where one has to conduct the affairs of the state or business in general. We are a mobile society. We have flattened the world.”
Carmichael concluded, “Does somebody really care where he lays his head at night — or if they have a job and if wages are rising and if the prosperity of West Virginia is returning?”