Jim Justice running for governor
By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette
West Virginia billionaire businessman Jim Justice announced today he’s running for governor as a Democrat.
Justice, who owns The Greenbrier, serves as president and CEO of about 50 companies, but he’s never held a political office – or even run for election. Forbes magazine estimates Justice’s net worth at $1.6 billion.
He announced his bid for governor this afternoon during a rally with supporters at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center in Greenbrier County.Justice becomes the second Democrat to enter the governor’s race. West Virginia Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has started a pre-candidacy campaign account to raise funds for next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin also has been mentioned as a possible Democratic contender.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is finishing a second term and isn’t eligible to run again.
Among Republicans, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, U.S. Rep. David McKinley and Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, have said they’re considering a gubernatorial run. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s decision to stay in Washington and forgo another run for governor cleared the way for Justice to enter the race.
Justice and Manchin, who served as West Virginia governor from 2005 to 2010, are longtime friends.
Justice, a former registered Republican, has made little known about his political views in the weeks leading up to today’s expected announcement. Justice grew up in Raleigh County and now lives in Lewisburg. He made his fortune from coal mining, farming and timbering.
In 1977, Justice started Bluestone Farms, an agriculture operation that has grown to more than 50,000 acres of farmland in four states. Justice’s farms produce more grain than any other operation on the East Coast. After his father died in 1993, Justice took control of Bluestone Coal Corp.
In 2009, he sold some of his family’s coal operations to Mechel, a Russian coal conglomerate. Justice bought back his West Virginia mining operations from the Russian company earlier this year.
Over the years, numerous fines and violations have dogged Justice’s coal companies.
Last year, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported that Justice’s mining operations had racked up dozens of reclamation fines in Kentucky, as well as in West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia and Alabama. In Kentucky alone, Justice paid $1.5 million in fines. At least nine contractors have sued Justice’s mines for not paying bills over the past three years, according to the Associated Press. Four of those nine legal claims, which in total exceed $1 million in alleged debts, have been settled for undisclosed amounts.
In 2009, Justice surprised many when he purchased The Greenbrier for $20.5 million, rescuing the iconic hotel from bankruptcy. Justice has since pumped tens of millions of dollars into the resort. The upgrades include a new casino, and a practice facility for the New Orleans Saints football team. Justice also spends about $6 million a year to host a PGA Tour golf tournament at The Greenbrier each summer.
Other additions to Justice’s resort portfolio include the Resort at Glade Spring in Raleigh County and Wintergreen Resort near Charlottesville, Virginia.
When he’s not running his companies, Justice coaches both the boys and girls basketball teams at Greenbrier East High School. He is the only coach at West Virginia’s AAA level who coaches both teams.