CHARLESTON, WV (AP)- Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was sworn in to a second and final term Friday.
Justice said in a 20-minute speech that “West Virginia is really on the move” despite challenges wrought by the pandemic and a population that has declined for eight straight years. The state’s top elected officials are all Republicans and the GOP flipped many seats in the legislature to gain a supermajority in both chambers.
“You know, I really never thought I’d really run again,” said Justice, who first won the seat as a Democrat before switching parties. “But there’s more to do.”
Justice did not lay out a vision for his second term in his speech, held outside at the state Capitol building and attended by top officials and the congressional delegation. He recently said on a radio show he supported eliminating the personal income tax as a way to drive investment to the state.
Saying it would “be a terrific accomplishment,” Justice acknowledge eliminating the tax, which produces a significant portion of state revenue, “would be a heavy lift.” But he said he would push for it with the conservative legislature.
“Just from a sex appeal standpoint, elimination of the state income tax carries with it the most appeal of anything we could do,” Justice said on WV Metro News this week.
Justice handily defeated Democrat Ben Salango in November’s election. A red wave thanks to former President Donald Trump’s popularity in the state produced several upset victories where Republicans ousted longtime Democrats in the the House of Delegates and Senate.
After lawmakers met last week to pick leaders in both chambers, they will kick off a 60-day session Feb. 10.
Also sworn in were constitutional officers Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Secretary of State Mac Warner, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, Treasurer Riley Moore and Auditor J.B. McCuskey — all Republicans.
West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins also administered the oath for justices Tim Armstead, John Hutchison and William Wooton.
Attendees were socially distanced and wearing masks during the hour-long outdoor ceremony on the Capitol steps. Early on, strong winds nearly tipped over a U.S. flagpole behind the speaker’s lectern. Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, sitting next to it on a bleacher, leaped to catch it before the flag could hit the ground.