Justice no laughing matter

Gov. Jim Justice both implied he might be mistaken for the 800-pound gorilla in the room and compared himself to a “grain of sand” (in the coal business), during his highly entertaining State of the State address last Wednesday.

Justice kept the laughs coming in an unorthodox speech that was meant to disarm. And to some degree, it worked. I and a few of my friends who perhaps enjoy this time of year more than most had a group texting session going during the State of the State address. Some of our commentary was about budget proposals and political reaction … but most of it was about the eccentricities that made this particular speech so much fun to watch. The governor had a marker and a white board. He had students and state employees ready to put on hard hats and bring in other props. He had a full lineup of jokes at his own expense.

And it was during all those moments in which he had us laughing (or asking What? as when he apparently mixed up Grizzly Adams, the TV character with Ben, the grizzly bear) that he would sneak in an aside along the lines of raising the price of gasoline in West Virginia by 10 cents a gallon.

Justice wielded that marker and white board to great effect when he scribbled that some of his tax increases were going to apply to “people,” and others to “business.” He moved straight into a dire pronouncement that had me wondering about the inevitability of both death and taxes. And he did so quickly enough and with enough flair that most people probably did not have time to stop and think: Businesses are run by and employ people.

There were other fun moments, such as when he pretended to be Frankenstein’s monster –slow and lumbering — and said he’d always thought anyone who got caught by the monster deserved to die. (There was an undercurrent of death running through his speech). Or, when he playfully referred to House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and “the other Tim,” meaning House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison.

Referring to the quagmire he and lawmakers have inherited as an “18-carat dog’s mess,” Justice presented a plan that raises taxes and does very little real cutting of state spending. Yet he presented it in a way that suggested his is the only way. In fact, after pointing out a time or two that he was giving us his best crack at “folksy,” he said if West Virginia does not apply his solutions to the budget crisis, “you’re dead.”

Without missing a beat he kept his show, and the emotional roller coaster, moving right into the sunsetting of two parts of his solution — three years, he says; and the goal to eventually get rid of West Virginia’s state income tax. If we just give him a “painless” little bit of blood now (just a teeny $600 million per year in taxes and fees — more than $100 a month for the average West Virginia family of four), we’ll be so healthy we can start going off some of our medicine in three short years!

There were other one-liners: “I love Vietnam, China and Mexico … from a distance,” or perhaps my new favorite exclamation, “Holy horse-whatever!” And, I’d hate to be the person he decides will be West Virginia’s new “Waste Czar.”

He even closed with a rousing cry of “Let’s go!” which some of us agreed made it hard not to respond with “Mountaineers!”

But in the end, where, incidentally, he again reminded us all how folksy he had been, Justice’s State of the State address — with as much country boy charm as he could muster — was about asking ordinary West Virginians to shoulder the burden without asking our self-indulgent and gluttonous state government to do much of anything to right this ship.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is no laughing matter.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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