Gov. Jim Justice expressed frustration at members of the state legislature and likened their behavior to that of a mob in the final days of the legislative session.
According to Justice, who delivered his message in a press briefing on Friday, April 9, state legislators were “semi-out of control,” during a committee meeting at the beginning of April.
Justice explained that this behavior came about because members of the House viewed an issue one way while members of the Senate viewed it another way.
In order to discuss the bill (HB2003) further, a committee was formed. It was during the committee meeting that the alleged mini-insurrection occurred.
“I mean, it’s been told to me over and over, it mimicked the look of a mob in our state capitol,” Justice said. “Then, you had a delegate, and possibly others, but a delegate, Joe Jeffries from Putnam County, he got up screaming obscenities like you can’t imagine—honest to God, in our Capitol, I mean, a delegate.”
Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, in his April 7 edition of The Back Pew, explained the incident in more detail.
The legislature passed a bill, HB2003, that would limit the “governor’s ability to extend states of emergency without legislative input,” according to Baldwin.
“The House version of the bill required the legislature to be called into session anytime an emergency lasted more than 60 days. The Senate version required the governor to justify extending an emergency to the legislature, but did not trigger an automatic legislative session,” Baldwin wrote.
He added that he supported the Senate version of the bill, but when the two chambers could not agree, this committee of three delegates and three senators met for discussion.
Baldwin stated that “when we arrived at the meeting, over 30 delegates lined the halls chanting, yelling vulgarities, and attempting to intimidate senators into changing their votes.”
Delegate Todd Longanacre was in attendance during the committee meeting and gave the West Virginia Daily News his view of the events.
According to Longanacre, the term mini-insurrection is inappropriate for what happened.
In the Capitol building, the ceilings are high and the chambers echo with conversation, he explained.
“When you have several people in a hallway, and there are several conversations going on simultaneously, it can get rather noisy,” Longanacre said. “The sound reverberates up and down the hallway.”
He added that he could understand how a person would feel intimidated by this crowd, but that they were there to show support for the House delegation who were trying to negotiate with the Senate to get language put back into what they believed was a very strong bill.
“We were permitted to be there,” Longanacre said. “It was an open meeting.”
“Three dozen or more people were standing in the hallway because the committee room was too small for all us to be in,” Longanacre continued.
“There was no chanting, there was no yelling. I did not hear any vulgarities. I did not hear anything like that personally. We listened quietly,” Longanacre added.
Longanacre further said that a photograph of him with his thumb down was taken as he was letting others in the hallway know that the bill was dead.
As for Jeffries, Longanacre said that he was not present at the time he made his alleged comment, but others told him about it.
“I am not going to condone his behavior, but I am definitely not going to condemn the entire delegation for the acts of one individual,” Longanacre said.
As a result of this incident, Justice has asked that Delegate Jeffries make a public apology to Baldwin and others in attendance, or be kicked out of office.
On Friday, April 9, while still in session, Senator Mike Woelfel (Cabell) addressed the Senate and stated that he was going to leave out the exact word that Jefferies used, but that he directed the following question to the delegation: How does the governor’s [expletive] taste?
Jeffries made the following comment in response to a post on Senator Baldwin’s Facebook page:
“While I don’t deny the fact that I did make one statement AFTER the meeting, there was still no yelling or screaming at anyone. Not to mention only one sentence was said by me as I was leaving.”
In a later post on his own Facebook page, Jeffries wrote the following:
“It would seem to me that Governor Jim Justice is severely misinformed of what actually happened on April 2 after the conference committee on HB 2003. I will not be issuing any apology to him or anyone else for anything I actually said. There was no “mob yelling obscenities and foul language” at all. I believe the more than 30 people there, would’ve said something if that were true. It’s 100% false. If he would like to know the truth, perhaps he should go to the source. The Governor, the Senate, nor anyone else have not once asked me what happened on that day. Nor is it relevant to anything that’s going on today. I have more important things to worry about than a dictator of a Governor or some butt hurt politicians who got their feelings hurt.”
The West Virginia Daily New’s request for comment from Delegate Joe Jeffries was not immediately returned.
The legislative session ended on April 11.