Billionaire coal baron and owner of The Greenbrier Jim Justice has officially announced his bid for governor.
Hundreds gathered at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center as Justice made the official announcement Monday after rumors of his intentions spread like wildfire throughout the state last week.
The owner of The Greenbrier and Southern Coal, which operates mines in five Appalachian states, said the idea of holding the state’s top political office has been in his mind for years, but the former long-time Republican said he’ll run as a Democrat.
“I am much more suited to be a Democrat because I truly want to be the person that is trying to take up for the little guy,” Justice said during a press conference after his announcement.
He has not officially filed his pre-candidacy papers for the office yet, but is expected to do so early Tuesday morning.
Justice said he’ll focus on creating jobs in West Virginia, especially in the southern coalfields which he called “hopeless,” but shared few ideas of how to create those jobs.
In fact, during his twenty minute speech and following press conference, Justice shared little in the way of policy ideas, instead choosing to focus on why he’s running for the office and his desire to turn the state around.
The West Virginia Republican Party has already started lashing out against the newly minted candidate, pointing out his company’s delinquent mine safety fines.
An investigative report by NPR from November showed Justice’s mining company owes more than $2 million in delinquent mine safety fines to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
NPR’s reporting says injury rates at those mines were nearly double the national average. An official with the mining company told NPR Monday they are in the process of paying off those delinquent fines, making $100,000 payments each month.
“In all honesty, in the coal business today, we do have obligations,” Justice said when questioned about the fines. “When it all really boils right down to it, we will take care of them.”
So far, only state Senator Jeff Kessler has also registered to run for the Democratic nomination.
Congressman David McKinley, Senate President Bill Cole and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey are all considering runs on the Republican side.