West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice had harsh words for the Democratic majority in the legislature Friday, accusing lawmakers of dragging down morale in West Virginia by acting politically.
Justice made the comments in an executive order he signed as the legislature returned to Charleston to consider his nominees to fill vacancies on boards and commissions. He asked legislators to consider his selections with "an open mind."
Afterward, he elaborated on his remarks, which touched off a public spat over how he was addressed and whether the girls' basketball team from Summit High School in Summersville, about 60 miles northwest of Charleston, had been referred to as "thugs."
"I never dreamed what I heard coming out of the House chamber would cause offense," Justice said, adding that he had received an e-mail "from across the state" calling his comments "repugnant."
"I'm talking about that which takes place at home and how it is not appropriate," Justice said, adding that "it's going to affect the psyche of this state."
Legislators from both parties, under pressure from both sides of the aisle, said they had been pushing to wrap up the Legislative session as quickly as possible, with some saying they were frustrated at being unable to fill all the vacancies. On Thursday, Democrats from a bipartisan group of 22 House members refused to vote to adjourn without considering a series of Gov. Jim Justice's nominees to state boards and commissions, citing the governor's harsh words.
Justice said Friday that it was "frustrating" that he could not close the session as promised. He complained that it was only Friday and that it is the first day of spring that many West Virginians have to be working.
"I want to close it but I have been told by the speaker, and Speaker Feltler, I'm starting to believe that they are delaying it," he said. "We're not happy with what's going on in the Legislature."
The fallout from Justice's harsh words started Saturday, when The Post and Courier in Charleston published an opinion piece titled "Justice speaks while state legislature is MIA," under the byline of its editor, Terry Swann.
In the column, Swann wrote that Justice, a Republican, had spoken in a "manual rant" directed at the Republican majority that he said was "deplorable."
On Sunday, Justice issued an executive order through the state Senate president, Mitch Carmichael, ordering for the immediate assignment of "full committees to consider, during the March session, all vacancies on boards and commissions where the positions now exist."
In a statement Sunday, Sens. Angela Jennings, a Democrat from Charleston, and Reill Brinkley, a Republican from Harrison County, disagreed with Justice's views.
"The focus of the session should be resolved during the next session, not on the legislature," Jennings said. "As we all know, there are vacancies and now let's work for a resolution to fill them and move on."
"We are sick and tired of the governor attacking the people of West Virginia and attacking the will of the people of West Virginia," Brinkley said. "Let's remember the voice of the people is in the legislative process and they will ultimately decide the future of the state of West Virginia."