The 2020 West Virginia Gubernatorial Debate was held on the evening of Tuesday, October 13, between Republican incumbent West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Democratic nominee and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango. Hoppy Kercheval served as moderator for the debate, which was held in Morgantown.
Kercheval asked the first question, directed to Governor Justice. The question was in regards to the color-coded map system used by the W.Va. Department of Education in determining the safety of opening schools for in-person learning.
“Critics say the map has been manipulated to achieve the desired result,” Kercheval said. “Why so many changes, and how do you respond to the critics who charge the map has been altered to achieve a particular outcome?”
Justice stated that the situation is fluid, and that he is listening to the medical and educational experts.
“Along the way, you have to adjust,” Justice said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Solango began by thanking first responders before reinforcing the need to emphasize public health over politics.
“Any time you take a map and you do political polls, and you adjust the metrics based on political polls, you’re putting politics ahead of public health. That’s something we don’t need to do,” Solango said.
The next question was directed to Salango, and was in reference to Justice’s ongoing statewide mandates in response to the pandemic.
“I would keep the state of emergency in effect,” Salango said, before going on to say that he would have ordered the mask-mandate much sooner.
Solango further satiated that he would not order another statewide shut-down of businesses, but rather redistribute the remaining funds available through the CARES Act. He then pointed out that only $22 million of the $150 million designated to assist small businesses had been given out before the closure of the program.
Justice responded by saying that the state government had awarded $36 million of CARES Act funding to Salango’s home county of Kanawha, while Solango voted to cut funding to the county health department.
The debate then shifted towards fiscal responsibility and decision making, with both candidates making their case as to why they believe they are the best suited to lead the state as governor. From there, both Justice and Salango discussed, and occasionally justified their personal business dealings.
For the majority of the session, the candidates engaged in a solid, informative and professional debate. The most potentially controversial statements made came when Justice referred to Salango as being “young, green and inexperienced.”
Salango, a trial lawyer of over 20 years, then made the statement: “He (Justice) actually has more courtroom experience than I do.”
This comment was in reference to the more than 600 lawsuits that have been filed against Justice’s companies.
Although the candidate’s answers contained substance, very little new information was revealed. Nor did either man offer much in the way of clarification to their current positions. The only revelation came in the form of Salango’s public endorsement of Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden.
When the time came for the candidates to make their closing statements, Justice was the first to offer his thoughts.
“When I walked in the door, you honored me beyond belief by letting me be your governor,” Justice began. “It’s been a tough road. You gave me a set of books and we were bankrupt beyond belief. Along the way we started pulling our way out of that. We passed the Roads to Prosperity plan, and all of a sudden, here we go. We put a stake in the sand on education and said we’re going to absolutely make a commitment to education. And we’ve done so. We’ve helped our vets, we’ve helped our elderly. We’ve absolutely diversified. We have a state now that has the lowest severance-tax in history almost. And really and truly we’re booming. We’ve done so without raising taxes. We’ve had record after record after record. And going forward, again, I can never thank you enough for honoring me to take you through this pandemic. We’ve lost 387-people in West Virginia now. And our prayers and our thoughts will be with them forever and ever more. And we’ve got to find a way to curb this killer. We have a juggling act; go to school, don’t go to school. Play ball, don’t play ball. It is a very difficult job. My opponent is very, very green. And he has an incredible amount of ideas. But this job, you have seen what I’ve done. You have seen what I’ve achieved. And as I go forward, I will continue to achieve more and more and more.”
Commissioner Salango then gave his closing remarks.
“This is an opportunity for the people of W.Va. to judge the two applicants,” Salango said. “This is really just a job interview. And I would submit to you, if you look at Jim Justice’s record, no company in West Virginia would hire him. He constantly misses work, and when he does show up, he’s always late. He’s constantly bogged down in controversy and scandal, whether its the tax issues or the 600-lawsuits for not paying his bills. Whether or not it’s the broken promises, or the FBI investigation. The failure to step in and help the Brooke County Power Plant which is hurting the northern panhandle. The failure to help down in southern West Virginia with regard to the Hobet mine project. We need somebody that’s going to keep their word. Somebody that’s going to honor their promises. I wasn’t born wealthy. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth., And when you look at me as an applicant, I’m somebody that’s going to work hard every single day. Someone that’s going to roll up my sleeves and get the job done for all of West Virginia. We need somebody with energy, somebody with new ideas that’s actually going to move West Virginia forward. Not somebody you have to sue just to get him to show up for work. I’ll create good paying jobs. I’ll make sure that I’m supporting public education. I’ll make sure that I’m working hard every day to rebuild our economy after COVID-19. We need somebody that’s going to bring us all together, not somebody that’s going to tear us apart. West Virginia desperately needs new leadership.”
Election day in West Virginia and the United States is Tuesday, November 3.