“Today, I tell you as West Virginians, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” said Justice. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Earlier in the day, Trump teased a “big announcement” at the event in Huntington, West Virginia. Thursday night, he praised the 6-foot-7-inch governor he nicknamed “Big Jim” for “show[ing] the country our agenda rises above left or right.”
News of Justice’s plans, which were first reported by The New York Times, surprised Republicans and Democrats alike in West Virginia. Prior to the news, the West Virginia GOP had even published an ill-timed tweet attacking Justice for being “low-energy.”
But in a statement obtained by ABC News earlier today, the West Virginia GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said, “We look forward to Governor Justice reflecting the conservative values of our Party and platform.”
Lucas added to ABC News, “The rumors about Justice switching parties had been percolating since the legislative session. This wasn’t a new rumor for us at all.”
This is not the first time Justice has switched parties — he was a registered Republican before switching to the Democratic Party prior to his gubernatorial run in 2015.
Justice, who made his fortune in the coal industry, refused to endorse Hillary Clinton in the general election and has been a vocal supporter of Trump’s backing of West Virginia and coal miners. But Justice’s involvement in the coal industry has also made headlines as he’s faced accusations of not paying the bills. The Associated Press reported that Justice’s coal businesses owed millions in unpaid West Virginia state taxes last year.
While Gov. Scott Walker of the Republican Governors Association said in a statement, “We’re thrilled that Governor Jim Justice wants to join our efforts,” the Democratic Governors Association was quick to denounce Justice’s decision. In a statement, DGA Executive Director Elizabeth Pearson claimed Justice deceived West Virginians with his party affiliation and joined the GOP for financial gains.
“Jim Justice deceived the voters of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat eight months ago,” said Pearson.
She added, “As Republicans have repeatedly said, Jim Justice owes millions of dollars in unpaid company taxes, after a deal with a…