Governor Jim Justice appeared on stage with Donald Trump last night in Huntington, WV, announcing that he would be switching political parties and registering himself as a Republican.
“Jim is going to say a few words, and these words have not been spoken by a major political figure in our country for a long time,” Trump told the capacity crowd. Governor Justice received a mixed reception of scattered boos as he took the stage Thursday night, with political tension from the months of budget negotiations and bathroom renovations at the capitol still fresh.
“The Democrats walked away from me,” Justice told the capacity crowd. “I can’t help you any more being a Democratic governor. So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Justice compared himself to Trump, saying that neither man was a politician. He recalled his mother’s fondness for Ronald Reagan, and imagined that she would praise him for the switch by saying, “Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”
Governor Justice has been a Democrat for less than three years, having switched to the party in February of 2015. His return to the Republican party reportedly surprised both Democratic allies and the West Virginia GOP, the latter of which was attacking him on Twitter as recently as yesterday morning.
Donald Trump’s election seemed to break existing party voting patterns after he swung a significant portion of Democratic votes throughout the country – especially white, working class men.
Butch Conley traveled from Ohio to see Trump in Huntington with his whole family. “I’m 69 years old, and I’ve been a registered Democrat until the last primary,” Conley said while waiting for the rally to begin. “Me and my wife both switched to Republican to vote for Donald Trump. I was sick and tired of the way the Democrats cry about everything.”
Huntington resident Thomas Newman also found himself in a new political arena at the rally. “I voted for Gary Johnson,” Newman said. When asked about his “Make America Great Again” hat, he explained that it had been given to him by his grandparents as a joke, because they knew he didn’t like President Trump nearly as much as they did.
Nevertheless, he wanted to experience the embattled President’s rally first-hand. “I like seeing angles from both sides,” Newman said. “I don’t like just relying on everything in the news. I do a lot of research on my opinions and I like seeing things for myself rather than taking them in second-hand.”
Trump’s speech focused primarily on economic issues. He touted the Dow Jones Industrial Average topping 22,000 points for the first time in history. On average, the Dow has hit a high once a week for more than four years.
He also praised a recent report from the US Department of Commerce that shows West Virginia with the 2nd highest GDP growth in the country during the first quarter of 2017. Both Trump and Justice claimed this is due to their dedication to the coal industry. The report did attribute the growth to a 21.6 percent increase in mining activity nationwide, which it linked to rising demand in Asia and Europe.
Governor Justice reminded the crowd that he predicted the return of coal demand in late 2016, before Trump had been elected.
Larry Miranda, a restaurant owner from the coal fields of Kentucky, says that he hopes that the policies put forward by Justice and Trump on coal will revitalize the region. “With all the regulations that were being put on coal, they weren’t producing any, and a lot of the miners lost their jobs,” Miranda said. “It affects all businesses, and it has affected our restaurant business greatly.”
Miranda said that Trump has so far met his expectations, but acknowledges that it may take some patience for real change to manifest. “I know that it takes a long time to get anything done in Trump’s situation, but I believe it’s going to be very much better after his four years – hopefully his eight years.”
The rally was Trump’s second visit to West Virginia in two weeks.