SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who announced during the rally he would switch parties from Democrat to Republican, during a Make America Great Again Rally at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, West Virginia, August 3, 2017.
Justice has turned the daily business operations over to his children while governor. He battled the Republican-controlled Legislature in his first year to limit budget cuts to Medicaid and to state colleges and universities, sometimes with public theatrics like bringing cow manure to a press conference.
He said Thursday that it was the defection from his positions by minority Democrats that resulted in outcomes that hurt people. He said both his parents were staunch Republicans. “Today I tell you as West Virginians I can’t help you any more being a Democrat governor,” he said.
Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead said the increases in Republican registration and elected officials show people in the state want change. “We welcome all West Virginians to the Republican ranks,” he said.
“We’re eager to work with Gov. Justice to apply our team’s conservative principles to the executive branch and make a clean break from the status quo that has dominated the previous two administrations,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said.
West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore said Justice became a Democrat because they care about people and then took advantage of them by taking their money and votes. “I think we can all guess just who he cares about by his decision today and it’s not the people of West Virginia,” she said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said Republicans represent the state’s future and she’s ready to work with Justice to grow the economy and fight for energy jobs.
In the national debate over health care, Justice expressed worries about future health coverage for 175,000 West Virginians in the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, but declined to push to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” He said he believes Republicans and Democrats will “get it right” when they work together to overhaul the law.
Rep. Evan Jenkins, who switched from Democrat to Republican and won a U.S. House seat in 2014, said at a meet-and-greet in Huntington before the rally that “so many people in recent years have switched from Democrat to Republican, and if Jim Justice is making the switch, I welcome him to the Republican Party.”
Jenkins is now running for Manchin’s seat.
In May 2015, when he announced his candidacy, Justice said he wanted to put aside partisan politics and that he had changed his party registration multiple times. “I am much more suited to be a Democrat because I truly want to be the person who is trying to take up for the little guy,” he said.