CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — At the same time West Virginia overwhelmingly picked Republican billionaire political outsider Donald Trump on Tuesday, the state widely preferred a Democratic billionaire political outsider for governor, Jim Justice.
In a stark split-ticket statement, the Mountain State scoffed off Justice’s political party label, picked the two businessmen who said the current system is broken, and left its state government in almost the same divide it’s currently in.
Justice will have to work with a Republican-led Legislature, just like Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The coal and agriculture businessman will also share the executive branch with four other Republican statewide elected officers, three of them freshly elected Tuesday.
The Mountain State’s political whims even led to media reports that Sen. Joe Manchin, the leader of the state’s conservative Democratic coalition, was considering a party switch. He vehemently denied it Tuesday.
“I’m a born in the wool West Virginia Democrat. I don’t know where they’re getting that crap from,” Manchin told The Associated Press at Justice’s victory party.
Justice defeated Republican state Senate President Bill Cole on Tuesday to keep the office in Democratic control. Despite the historically Democratic state’s quick shift to Republican, the GOP now has gone two decades without winning the West Virginia governor’s race.
In his victory speech, Justice said Tuesday was the “first day of real healing,” and called for unity.
“I’m an absolute believer that we don’t have to divide business and labor. We don’t have to be at odds with one another whether you be rich, poor, black, white, whatever it may be,” Justice said. “We don’t need to be at odds with one another whether you be Republican, Democrat or independent. We’ve got too many people on the outside throwing rocks at us, and we’ve got to bond together and be great West Virginians.”
If the current setup is any indication, though, the split government could be a headache.
This year, the Legislature overrode Tomblin vetoes of bills that made West Virginia a “right-to-work” state, repealed its prevailing wage for public construction projects, further limited abortions and made it legal to carry a concealed gun without a permit. The overrides on policy bills only require simple majority votes.
And a fight over whether or not to patch a dismal budget with higher taxes dragged on with a special session that cost the state about $600,000. Tomblin, who has a stronger veto power on the budget, won the argument with higher taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
In otherwise statewide bids, Republican Mac Warner of Morgantown ousted two-term Secretary of State Natalie Tennant on Tuesday night.
Patrick Morrisey claimed a second term as attorney general after an expensive, contentious race against Democratic state Delegate and businessman Doug Reynolds.
JB McCuskey became the first Republican elected as West Virginia’s auditor since 1928. He denied auditor’s office employee Mary Ann Claytor’s bid to be the first black elected to a statewide office in West Virginia.
State Sen. Kent Leonhardt became the first Republican in 28 years to win election as West Virginia’s agriculture commissioner, defeating incumbent Democratic Walt Helmick in a rematch of the 2012 race.
The only other statewide Democrat to win, John Perdue, kept his streak alive as West Virginia’s longest-serving state treasurer. He won a sixth term by defeating Republican Charleston bank executive Ann Urling. A Republican hasn’t been elected state treasurer since 1928.