In 2020, Donald Trump won West Virginia with 69% of the vote.
Jim Justice, the Mountain State’s governor, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party in August 2017 – announcing the move at a rally for Trump in the state.
“Today I will tell you as West Virginians, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Justice said at the rally. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
None of that would have predicted this: Justice has been one of the leading voices pushing for vaccinations of his citizens.
“If you’re out there in West Virginia, and you’re not vaccinated today, what’s the downside?” Justice said during a televised coronavirus briefing earlier this week. “If all of us were vaccinated, do you not believe that less people would die? If you’re not vaccinated, you’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
West Virginia, despite a very fast start to its vaccination efforts, has seen its numbers slow considerably. While more than 77% of those 65 and older in the state are fully vaccinated, only 54% of all West Virginians over 12 have received both shots, according to state Covid-19 data. All told, 39% of the West Virginians are fully vaccinated, which puts it on the lower end of states.
(Sidebar: While vaccinations need not be political, Trump’s skepticism about the virus’s severity and his doubts about mask-wearing have ensured that red states are, generally speaking, vaccinated at a much lower rate than blue states.)
This isn’t the first time that Justice has broken with his Party when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
Back in February, Justice spoke out – on CNN among other media outlets – about his belief that Congress needed to “go big” with its coronavirus stimulus package. (West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s vote to pass the $1.9 trillion measure via budget reconciliation shortly after the Justice public prodding.)
“We absolutely need to quit thinking first and foremost, ‘What is the right Republican or right Democrat thing to do,’” Justice explained to the New York Times of his support for a big stimulus package. “I have been a business guy all my life, and I know that when you have a real problem, you can’t cut your way out of the problem. Too often we try to skinny everything down and not fund it properly.”
What explains Justice’s blunt talk on vaccines? Well, he’s term limited out of his job in 2024. He’s also 70 years old, a party switcher and a billionaire. (He’s a coal magnate.)
The Point: Justice is way beyond political concerns at this point in his term – and his life. Which allows him, at least in regard Covid-19 vaccinations, to simply do the right thing.