MORGANTOWN — After getting raked over the social media coals Wednesday for saying President Barack Obama isn’t welcome in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice was forced to revisit the remark during Thursday’s daily COVID-19 press briefing.
During the question-and-answer period, a reporter asked Justice if he’d had any more time to consider which presidents would be welcome in the state.
Insisting, as he did Wednesday in a release issued after his comment lit up the internet — with many users calling him racist — that his feelings were motivated purely by policy, Justice said, “I would surely hope and pray that anybody that knows me would know there’s not a racial bone in my body.”
Rather, he said, he was referring to the former president’s “war on coal,” which Justice said nearly bankrupted West Virginia.
Twitter and Facebook feeds weren’t the only places Justice’s remark hit a nerve, however.
West Virginia Democratic Party chair Belinda Biafore said in a Wednesday press release, “At a time when our nation is facing increased tensions due to ongoing discrimination against fellow Americans, it is unacceptable for Gov. Justice to suggest that the first black president of the United States is unwelcome in the Mountain State. … At our core, West Virginians are welcoming. We show up for one another and we should be showing the world that we lead with love and open arms.”
On Thursday, Justice defended himself by talking about his extended family and many he cares for who are African-American. He cited his comments about the death of George Floyd being first-degree murder and pointed to his role in extending community COVID-19 testing to make it more accessible to African-Americans and other minorities.
He called Obama a good father and a God-fearing man who rose to the office of president through commitment and hard work.
“You’ve got to commend that. You’ve got to salute that,” he said.
But, he added, “the polices of the Obama administration destroyed West Virginia.”
Those policies “crippled” the state, Justice said, especially the in the southern region.
“I saw people and businesses devastated beyond total belief. If I can’t be critical of that … then we’re not being fair.”
His comments had nothing to do with skin color, he said.
“President Obama is welcome here,” Justice said. “President Obama’s War on Coal is never welcome here.”