West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, known for quirky speeches, will give final one before US Senate run

Jan 9, 2024, 11:02 PM

FILE - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice holds up his dog Babydog's rear end as a message to people wh...

FILE - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice holds up his dog Babydog's rear end as a message to people who've doubted the state as he comes to the end of his State of the State speech in the House chambers, Jan. 27, 2022, in Charleston, W.Va. The two-term governor is set to give his final State of the State speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

(Chris Dorst/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice once rejected a legislative budget by showing a plate of cow dung he brought from a farm to the state Capitol on a silver platter. He hoisted the hind end of his pet English bulldog in the House chamber in response to criticism. And he was always ready with a poster board or prop to illustrate a point.

Justice will deliver his final State of the State address Wednesday night, bringing a close to one avenue for his quirky, unpredictable speeches. The popular two-term Republican governor is running for Democrat Joe Manchin’s U.S. Senate seat in November.

The 6-foot-7 (2-meter) Justice will leave big shoes to fill — literally and metaphorically.

A former billionaire who owns dozens of businesses, Justice, 72, has always put on a show never seen before under the Capitol dome.

Gone this time next year from the Statehouse will be Justice’s overused adverbs such as “really, really,” the informal “lotta lotta,” or, in order to get his point across, “more than good sense.”

He refuses to use teleprompters or speak from a script, and his staff has admitted they are often as surprised as anyone by what he says or does.

During his first State of the State in 2017, he referred to the West Virginia budget as “an 18-karat dog’s mess.”

Usually at Justice’s side — or on his lap — is his grumpy-looking English bulldog, Babydog, who sometimes dresses up, such as when she wore a hat with a giant bow for a briefing ahead of the Kentucky Derby.

In 2022, Justice ended his televised address by flashing Babydog’s rear to the crowd in response to singer and actress Bette Midler, who called West Virginians “poor, illiterate and strung out” in a tweet after Manchin refused to support President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

“Babydog tells Bette Midler and all those out there: Kiss her heinie,” Justice said, grinning, to a standing ovation.

Justice has been described as “folksy” for his unique, rambling speaking style, a characterization he embraces. He’s said West Virginia is on an economic “rocket ship ride” and has called himself a frog who’s proud of his pond.

“I speak in real common language. … Really and truly you know that I am talking to you, just like we were sitting in your house and I was talking to you,” he said during his 2022 State of the State. “I’m not talking down to anybody. I don’t believe in it.”

In 2017, he brought to his inauguration an ax and tackle box that he bought for $200 on the side of the road from a woman who had fallen on hard times.

“I carry the tackle box and the ax every day,” he said. “I can’t stand how good we are and how troubled we are and how many people are hurting.”

Not everyone has been charmed by Justice, who has sparred with politicians from both sides. He’s been critiqued for not spending enough time in Charleston, instead devoting time to other activities like coaching a girls’ basketball team near his home on the Virginia border.

Justice has also been criticized for underfunding everything from public schools to the state’s foster care system, and advocates for low-income residents say he has failed to meet the challenges facing the neediest citizens

Others have groaned that stunts like the Babydog hind-end episode are unprofessional and hurt the state’s image. Justice has also received attention for failing to pay fees for safety violations at family coal mines and millions in unpaid business debt.

State Democratic Party Chair Mike Pushkin took a jab at Justice in November, saying residents deserve a politician who “shows up to work, pays his debts, and brings more to the U.S. Senate than just a cute dog.”

Six months after taking over as governor as a Democrat, Justice announced at a rally for then-President Donald Trump that he was switching to the GOP.

He oversaw the response to two statewide teachers’ strikes, COVID-19 and the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has claimed lives in West Virginia at a higher rate than any other state.

During the pandemic, the pro-vaccine governor said residents who went unvaccinated were “entering the death drawing.”

He has also focused on economic development and tourism. West Virginia has long ranked near the bottom of U.S. health and economic statistics. Justice has consistently condemned jokes made at the state’s expense.

“I don’t subscribe to that, and I know you don’t either,” he said during his 2021 State of the State.

Instead, Justice calls West Virginia a “diamond in the rough.”

When he reintroduced a proposal to cut the state’s personal income tax, Justice said legislative leaders told him to either give up or “make a big splash.”

“And so here comes me cannonballing into the pool,” the governor during last year’s State of the State. “By God, I’ll make a big splash.”

After lawmakers agreed to a compromise cut of 21.25%, Justice signed it in early March.

United States News

Associated Press

Appeals court ruling that vacates Capitol rioter’s sentence could impact dozens of Jan. 6 cases

A federal appeals court in Washington has ordered a new sentence for a retired Air Force officer who stormed the U.S. Capitol dressed in combat gear, in a ruling issued Friday that could impact dozens of other cases stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. While a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for […]

21 minutes ago

Law enforcement officials and medical personnel work the scene of an officer involved shooting near...

Associated Press

Missouri police charge man with 2 counts first-degree murder after officer, court employee shot

A man was charged Friday with two counts of first-degree murder for the killing of a court employee who tried to serve an eviction notice at a home in Independence, Missouri, and an officer who responded, prosecutors said. Larry Acree was also charged with first-degree assault in the wounding of the other officer who responded, […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

What to know about the latest court rulings, data and legislation on abortion in the US

A judge in Montana rejected abortion restrictions, the attorney general in Missouri is accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally transporting minors for abortions and new data shows how the way abortions they’re provided continues to shift in a nation where some states have bans and others are protecting access. More than a year and a half […]

2 hours ago

FILE - National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial speaks at the National Urban League Annu...

Associated Press

Black Americans’ significant economic and civil rights progress threatened, report says

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black Americans have endured considerable injustices and barriers to prosperity and equality throughout U.S. history. But their social, economic and political advances in the 60 years since the enactment of major civil rights legislation have been unsatisfactory, according to a new annual study on racial progress. The “ State of Black America […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

With trash bins now required in NYC, only the rats are sorry to see the garbage piles go

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s tradition of piling garbage bags on the sidewalk for pickup is going the way of the dinosaur. As of Friday, all 200,000 businesses in the Big Apple are required to put out their bags of trash in garbage bins, as communities across the county and world have long […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities search for father and 2 young children in New Hampshire after mother found dead

MEREDITH, N.H. (AP) — Authorities were searching Friday for a father and his two young children after the children’s mother was found dead in a New Hampshire apartment. Authorities issed an Amber Alert just after 4 a.m. for the abduction of 4-year-old Elowyn Duren and 1-year-old Vaelyn Duren from the city of Berlin. Authorities said […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, known for quirky speeches, will give final one before US Senate run