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Photos, Video and Text: West Virginia State of the State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  The West Virginia Legislature’s Office of Reference & Information provides photos for use by the media of functions such as the State of the State and the legislative session.

Below a video of the State of the State, the text of Governor Justice’s message and a sampling of the photos. More photos are available at https://westvirginialegislature.zenfolio.com/

Media outlets can give photo credit to the West Virginia Legislative photographers, Perry Bennett and Will Price.

Here is the transcript of his speech in its entirety:

GOVERNOR JUSTICE: Okay, sit down y’all look like you’re getting tired. And you gotta clap a lot tonight.

Oh, me. I’ll get to the meat and potatoes in just a second, but I want to thank you.

I want to thank you – from all of us. All those in my family and every way. For all the years and all the time we’ve spent together. Bickering at times, but hopefully loving each other in the end. And absolutely loving West Virginia, no matter what. 

Now, if I can make some incredible introductions here and it’s just this. You know, I’d like to introduce my family, especially Cathy, who has to put up with me all the time. And please give Cathy and Jill and Jay a big round of applause.

Okay, the members of my Cabinet, and I really don’t see any need in going through each secretary. But in thinking about it, maybe I should. You know, because of all the great work that they do all the time.

You know, we have three new secretaries, the Secretary of Health, the Secretary of Human Services, and the Secretary of Health Facilities.

You know, so if Sherri Young, Cynthia Persily, and Mike Caruso would stand up and maybe you could give them a round of applause. Now, we have a new interim Secretary of Revenue in Larry Pack. And God knows all of y’all know, Larry. We’ve known him forever.

Our Secretary of Administration Mark Scott, our Secretary of Homeland Security Mark Sorsaia, our Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston, our Secretary of Veterans Assistance, Ted Diaz, and our Secretary of Economic Development, Mitch Carmichael. Please give them a round of applause, please.

Now, this man demands uniqueness beyond belief. Our Curator of Arts, Culture, and History Randall Reid Smith.

I’m gonna hustle along here because we got a lot to talk about tonight. Our Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby, our Secretary of our DEP, he’s doing a phenomenal job, Harold Ward, and our Secretary of Commerce James Bailey, please give them a round of applause. 

Our Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard Brigadier General Bill Crane, our Command Sergeant Major James Jones, our Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Sarah Tucker, and our commissioner of our Bureau of Senior Services, Denise Worley. And last but not least, our Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs Jill Upson, please give them a big round of applause.

Don’t hit your hands so much if your hands get sore and you can blame that on me later on. But, think about this, just to say please, my staff. My staff has been with me for a long, long time. And they’ve done so much good work, and they have had to put up with me with periodically, for maybe a come to Jesus meeting, or they have to put up with me, you know, when I would have a nut fit or whatever it may be. And there’s times that I could be dead wrong. But please, give them a big round of applause.

Now our Supreme Court, our Chief Justice Tim Armstead, Justice Beth Walker, Justice John Hutchison, Justice Haley Bunn, and Justice William “Bill” Wooten. 

Please give them a giant round of applause.

Oh, thank you. 

I have to tell you this. But John Hutchison looks so innocent, doesn’t he? Now, just think about this. We were practicing basketball at Woodrow Wilson in the year, the year I believe. I believe I was a sophomore and John was a junior. So John’s way, way, way older than me.

But in all that, we were lining up at the center circle at the Raleigh County armory to jump ball. There was five sophomores on the team. And we ended up winning the state championship. But with all that being said, those five sophomores, one of 15, were just ground fodder. Absolutely. We just got run over every single day. And in this situation, I truly did. Because as the ball was thrown up, John wheeled around at warp speed and hit me right in the nose with his head. My nose broke in three places. Blood was going everywhere, and the coach was screaming, “Justice get off the damn court.” So anyway, brother John, I’ll never forget that.

Our constitutional officers from our left, our Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, please give him a big round of applause. State Auditor JB McCuskey, another round of applause. Our Secretary of State Mac Warner, please another round of applause. 

Our Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt, same. Our State Treasurer Riley Moore. And our State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt. 

Well, it’s been easy up to now but just think about this. Seven years ago and seven years for some, I’m sure it has gone really, really fast.

This is my last State of the State. Seven years, my gosh, it seemed like an eternity when it all started.

For a lot, it’s gone really fast. And I’m sure for several of you, it’s gone really slow.
But along the way I’ve tried to do this; I’ve tried to give wisdom, wisdom that I was taught mostly from my dad. 

You know wisdom about “don’t confuse effort with accomplishment”. Or “if you can’t get it done in 24 hours a day, you got to work nights.”

You know dad would have said as I stood in front of him, I said dad, there wasn’t anything I could do. And as the desk exploded, as he jumped forward and grabbed me as an 18 year old around my shirt and just slammed me down on the desk and said “Darn you” (but he didn’t say darn you). He said “Your best bet is to always remember this, there’s always something you can do, and you’re darn well ought to always remember that”.

Well, that’s how I’ve lived my life. That’s all there is to it. I believe that. I believe that if you give it to God above and you give your best and you give your best like nobody’s business, good things will happen. 

I’m gonna give you one more bit of advice right now. I gave this same advice to that bunch of young ladies that’s right up there. That’s my basketball team. A bunch of kids that are the best of the best. I said to them, there’s no substitute for being there.

Absolutely always showing up. Always giving your best. And there is no substitute for being there.

Now with all that being said, if we could focus just a second on being there. Let me tell you something, and I just came up with this, probably yesterday. 

I looked at the mileage deal on my vehicle, and this is four or five vehicles into this – 248,000 miles right now. I totaled up the vehicles over the last years that I’ve been your Governor, and I am approaching driving one million miles in the state of West Virginia.

A million miles. I do it on my dime, and I do it proudly because I really think that I’m here to serve.

Now just think about it. Well, what is a million miles? 

Do you realize that if we left here, right this minute, and we headed to the Pacific Ocean in California, I could have done that 500 times. 500 times on the mileage that I have spent traveling all across this unbelievable state. 

Now if I would absolutely just tell you just this, along the way, maybe I’m different.

Maybe I’m the guy that’s not crazy about spending your money. Maybe I’m the guy that is really not crazy about having a party every other night. Or, maybe I’m the guy that’s not crazy about flying in your aircraft. Can you imagine, I’ve been in your helicopter one time? 

One time.

I am crazy about just this. I’m crazy about serving. You know, our forefathers stepped up. And I think an awful lot of you are doing exactly the same thing. You’re on the cusp right now of being away from your families, for all practical purposes, for 60 days. And what you’re paid is nothing. Absolutely, at the end of the day, I can’t thank you enough.

Now I’ll tell you this job at times can be pretty doggone tough.

And there’s days that it is plenty lonely.

And there’s days that you’re tired and you feel beat up.

And lo and behold out of the clear blue sky, you know, there’s more and more days that you see families that are devastated with floods or whatever it may be and there’s not maybe anything you can do.

You absolutely see our heroes. Our heroes are the first that we all call. That maybe we’ve lost. 

And you sat briefing after briefing after briefing, and you read the names of 7,000 plus people that was lost. Now we don’t read the names do we? We read the age and the sex, and a county. It’s terrible, absolutely terrible.

Because I know so well what each and every one of those families were going through. It was really tough.

I see the pain, at times, that my family has. And would tell you just this though: a thousand, a thousand, a thousand times over, I’d do it again. And a thousand, a thousand, a thousand times over, they would too.

Now, let me just read a couple lines to you. When the first time you saw me, I stood before you pledging to fight for the soul of our state. We were staring down a dark tunnel. Our state was bankrupt. Our jobs and our people were leaving and our spirit was broken.

Do you remember those days? Do you remember what that was like? It wasn’t any fun was it?

Now I would also tell you that oftentimes, things come in really odd looking packages. And I’m it. You know you got a big guy, and for crying out loud, he’s got a bulldog too.

With all that being said, the big guy brought whiteboards in the beginning. Sweat was running off of him in every direction known to man while I was running back and forth and trying to get this written and this written and this written. The big guy’s creative and the big guy’s got big, big, big dreams.

I do have a ton of energy that God has given me and a lot, a lot, a lot of enthusiasm. I believed that there was real hope and I believed it. I believe, first and foremost overwhelmingly, that God above was at play in all of our hearts right here with us each and every day.

It didn’t matter to me that we were absolutely the benefactors of decades after decades after decades on who was going to be 50th in this country. It didn’t matter to me.

I knew, I knew just how good you really are. And I knew it. And I believed it.

I asked you to close your eyes at that point in time, a long way back and think of the place, the place that is within a rock’s throw of two thirds of the population. And has four unbelievable seasons and all these natural resources and the real treasure: you.

You, the greatness of the people.

I’ll ask you before I’m done tonight to close your eyes one more time.

I came in at the first State of the State and I said just these and think about just this for a second. I said we need to make education our centerpiece. We need to grow tourism. We need to diversify our economies. We need to never, never, never forget our coal miners, our gas workers and our fossil fuels.

We need to absolutely change our standard of life. We need to pass Roads to Prosperity and we need to change our image.

Nothing changed. Nothing changed. From the first crack out of the box. Nothing changed. Just think about it.

You know we absolutely stepped up to the plate in regard to education. We’ve sure got a long way to go. We’ve got parents now that can choose where they want to go and what they want to do.

Absolutely. We’ve grown tourism off the bloomin chart. And every dadgum dollar that you put in tourism, you don’t put enough, and you don’t put enough, and you don’t put enough because every dollar you put in it comes riffing back to us instantaneously.

Absolutely. I said diversify the economy. We could not just depend on one industry all the time.

My family’s been in the coal business forever. But we couldn’t depend on the one industry all the time. But we don’t forget, do we? 

And you know what happened? Because us putting another stake in the sand and saying we’re not going to forget our fossil fuels, and for those crazies that are out there in lala land that believe we can do without fossil fuels today, go back to your crazy stuff. You know, to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to starve to death in the dark.

Now, when you’re thinking about standard of life, you got to be thinking about two things. About people coming to West Virginia. What did they ask? How’s the schools, how’s the roads? How’s the schools, how’s the roads? Over and over and over and over and over. Same thing. 

Well, think about it.

Granted, our schools have got a ways to go. Granted we do. But you know I think you should always, all, never forget just this – Jim’s in the schools all the time. All the time. Why would I tell you anything but the truth? I challenge the media every day over and over and over and over and over. Find something that knowingly I’ve told you is not true.

Politicians do it nonstop. Find something that Jim justice has told you. That’s not true. You can’t do it. You can’t do it. Now, with all that being said, think about that standard of life and think about our schools.

Now here’s the next thing I’ll absolutely challenge you to do. Go pick a school – I don’t care what the school is. Pick a middle school, pick an elementary school. Go to the school, walk into the fourth grade class, do this, please do this. Walk into the fourth grade class and it may be Miss Lilly’s class and ask Miss Lilly to come out in the hall and leave her out in the hall just to sec, and go back in and say to the kids, what do y’all think of Miss Lilly?

And I’ll bet you overwhelmingly they say “we love Miss Lilly.” And then, go out and ask Miss Lilly what she thinks of her students and you’ll get the same answer. 

And then, go downtown and say what do you think of Cameron Elementary School?
What do you think of Paden city? What do you think? And here’s the answer – we love our school.

We love our school. And it means everything to our community. And we got stuff to improve. But for God’s sake alive, and if the kids love the teacher, and the teacher loves the kids, and the community loves the school. We got a lot going on in a good way to.

Our Roads to Prosperity launched us, and we had, whether you liked it or didn’t like it, we had to change our image. Today, of all things, and if I could say it and slang, who could have ever thunk it.

Think about it, in World Travel magazines, in countries so far away we don’t even have any idea where they are, they’re saying ‘West Virginia is the place you ought to go.’ 

You’re seeing it all around you. You’re seeing it everywhere. Absolutely. We’re a different place today. With all that together. What happened? Then the rocket ship took off, didn’t it?

Now, I’m gonna read just a couple more lines to you.

We’ve climbed that mountain together. We’ve pulled the rope together. Every step of the way and the view from the top is breathtaking.

Think about that.

If I could just touch on just a couple more. It all started like I said with the Roads to Prosperity program. You know, our roads are anything but just steel and concrete.

The roads absolutely are arteries that are pumping life back into our very towns and cities. Every mile we pave is a mile closer to new horizons, to jobs that are coming home and to families that can stay home.

And speaking of families, we stepped up. We stepped up for our Troopers. We stepped up for our teachers and our public servants. We absolutely stepped up when they were having a tough time. We delivered pay raise after pay raise.

Our schools now have new life. Our streets are safer. And our state runs like a well oiled machine at this time pumping out pride and not desperation.

Remember the taxes we paid, the regulations that burdened our businesses. We slashed them together. Together all of us, we cut the red tape and what happened? Businesses are absolutely booming and jobs are multiplying. And West Virginia has become a magnet for dreams, not dust.

Our revenue surpluses have reached heights nobody could have ever dreamed of. 

That’s all there is to it. And we’re returning those dollars to you. But it’s not all about dollars and cents is it? When it really boils right down to it, it’s about the soul of this state. We protected our coal miners, our gun rights and our unborn babies. 

I could not be more proud.

We fought for our faith, did we not? Our families, our freedoms.

We stood tall in West Virginia and West Virginia strong we were – through COVID, fires, floods and storms. And the world is seeing the West Virginia grit that we’ve got.

Now I’m going to lay aside what we’ve done because my dad would say to me over and over and over. Again, at one time believe it or not, I was skinny and had brown hair and I was a hottie -tottie golfer. 

I won our state Junior amateur a couple of times and I went all over the place playing in tournament after tournament with Sam Snead. It was something. He actually thought I was a pretty good player.

With all that being said, my dad would have said to me a thousand, thousand times, son, the only shot in golf that matters, is the next shot.

If your last shot went dead in the middle of the swamp, what can you do about it? If the last shot was a hole in one, what does it matter?

The only shot, in life, in many situations, is the next shot.

So with that being said, I would say to you, we’re a long way from being done in West Virginia. We’ve got jobs to create, schools to enhance, and communities to lift. So let’s make this last year that I have, and then the decades to come, better and better and better and better. Please, let’s do just that.

If I could talk just a second about Economic Development. Here’s what I’d say to you. How does it feel? How does it feel to go to the plate today? And every single time you go to the plate, you’re hitting a home run?

That’s how it feels, for God’s sakes-a-living, and you can’t imagine the businesses that are calling over and over and over and the opportunities for jobs and goodness that other states had, that we never had.

It’s real. It’s absolutely real.

These are numbers that I’ve been given and everything but, since 2017: We’ve created 12,591 jobs. We have retained 20,155 jobs, and there’s 240 companies in the mix somewhere.

We do have a seat at the table now. And in my words, we are the seat. Do you get that? For God’s sakes-a-living, and of all things. West Virginia is the seat. We’re competing on that world stage and we’re winning.

There are seven new businesses that I’m going to announce to you and I’m gonna go through them pretty quickly.

Watt Fuel Cell is coming to the Bridgeport airport with an investment of $64 million and 203 new jobs. Clean Seas is coming to Quincy with 40 new jobs and a $50 million investment. We have an expansion to retain the business of Alcon in Cabell County that’s spending $70 million and keeping 500 jobs. Gestamp is expanding in South Charleston with a $70 million investment and 120 new jobs. SMR Technologies is coming to Nicholas county with 40 new jobs. No, I’m sorry, with 75 jobs, retaining more than 100 and $23 million in investment. Mountaintop Beverage is expanding Morgantown with $90 million of investment, 210 retained jobs, and 140 more jobs that are being added. 

Please give all these folks your heartfelt applause.

Amazon is coming to West Virginia again. But this time, Amazon is coming with AWS. You know we can’t even run the internet without AWS. 

It is amazing that partnerships are beginning to happen with our schools. A lot, lot, lot to still be put forth in regard to this. But we have two people and I think they’re here tonight. But is Kim Majerus with us. Kim, are you here? Okay, there’s Kim, please give her a big round of applause And Faisal Hanafi, is he here? There he is.

Think about this, and you deserve so much credit: tax cuts. We’ve cut taxes in West Virginia 23 times since I walked in the door. Twenty-three different times and delivered on the biggest tax cut, the biggest tax cut in state history, hands down. I would tell you just this, the faster that we can get rid of the taxes on the individuals, the better we’ll be. 

We can’t do it all on day one. We got to mind the store properly. That’s all there is to it. You’ve got to mind the store properly. You can’t do it all on day one. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t see the beacon and we don’t drive ourselves there as fast and as hard as we can possibly go to get there.

Tonight, I’m proposing two more. I’m proposing the total elimination of Social Security tax on all, On all.

I’m proposing a Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit where folks that are struggling with daycare can at least write them off your taxes against your revenue. We need this and we need this very badly and we need it right now.

As far as a budget goes. This for all practical purposes is the six is a six year where we’ve absolutely had, for all practical purposes, a flat budget.

You know I want to say this and I say this pretty profoundly, you know I don’t want to sound braggadocious about anything, but my administration does not believe in growing government. And my administration does not believe in dipping into our rainy day fund and using our rainy day fund. We use surpluses. We use earnings to absolutely make choices to do projects to grow this state but we’ve got to do it while minding that store that I refer to all the time.

Tonight I have a few things that I’m adding based on earnings and dollars that we’ve got. And these few things are first just this. We have Dr. Eric Cage with us here. And if you could please stand. This may surprise you, but absolutely that is one whale of a school in my book. And I absolutely grew up and cut my teeth, from a business standpoint, running an ag operation and it grew, and it grew and it grew. We need a state-of-the-art ag lab and I am proposing we put $50 million in a new state-of-the-art ag lab and locate it at West Virginia State University.

We need to stand behind our moms, don’t we? I’m proposing 3 million for crisis pregnancy centers.

We need to stand behind our seniors. Absolutely, the very people that brung us to the dance. The very people that in oftentimes we run away from and we think “oh they’ll be okay.” No, they won’t be okay. $20 million to our senior centers. $15 million to our state parks. $5 million to absolutely never forget our firemen, our EMS’s and their agencies. We need to fund them with $10 million. 

This is a pile of money. But, we have grown this state to have a pile of money. So instead of just sitting there, staring at a pile of money, let’s put the money at work. 

Let’s make the money work for us.

$2 million for the very, very people that we owe everything in life to, to the state’s veterans home. $5 million for seed money to start charter schools. $150 million is a gigantic investment to the School Building Authority. $50 million for flood resiliency.

You know I’ve gone over and over and over and seen bad, bad things happen. And maybe they didn’t cost all the money in the world. And the folks absolutely didn’t qualify for FEMA. And there they were. There they were with the end loader at the end of the street, picking up all their memories and everything and throwing them in the back of a dump truck. And off they went. Tough, really tough. And when you’ve got to just sit there and put your arm around them and say there’s nothing I can do. Then I think about Dad. Absolutely, there’s always something you can do. And this will help a lot of folks.

You know, our West Virginia hospitals, all across our land, step up for us over and over and over and over and over. I know this is not all the money in the world. But I want to propose that we spend $100 million, listen to all of our hospitals, let probably Ann Urling figure this out, because Ann can make $3 go from here to Texas and back.

And where all this leaves us today, you may think by gosh a living, all this money.

Where this leaves us today is with $310 million in the income tax fund. And $1,200,000,000 in a rainy day fund. $1,500,000,000 in this state. It still leaves us right where I said. Mind the store. Mind the store.

So, I want to put $10 million back in the Posey Perry fund because we have now spent $9.5 million of the $10 million we had last year. And some way, somehow, all of you have got to realize, and all you’ve got to do is go with Cathy Justice, and Communities in Schools or whatever. All you’ve got to do is go to the school.

Go and be with the kids. And what you’re going to see, is you’re going to see in a lot of situations that maybe, just maybe, it may be the parents fault, but the kids are suffering. The kids are hungry too.

Go somewhere to a senior center to see somebody that’s really having a hard time. They’re having a hard time getting to, getting food to. We have got, with all our bountiful harvest that God above has given us, we have got to stop hunger in this state. 

So I tell you just this: there’s a man with us tonight. His name is Larry Lester. Larry works this food bank, where my uncle, his name was Posey Perry. He was a coal miner and after he retired from the coal mines for 30 years. He died when he was 94. For 30 years he worked the food bank at Huff Creek. Thirty-nine. Is that Larry? Stand up, please. Larry now has the reins and has been there a long time himself. He knows what hunger really is all about. We’ve got to stop it. We’ve got to stop it.

I am proposing an across-the-board 5% pay raise for the fifth time, for the fifth time, to all of our teachers and service personnel and all those in government. Hopefully this will more, more than cover, and it will, it will more than cover the PEIA extra cost. And with all that, at the end of the day, what we wanted to do is not cover. We wanted to cover and those folks put some money in their pocket.

The EMS Answer the Call initiative. Think about this: in 2021, 542 and 2023, 938. It is amazing. Amazing. So many West Virginians are now working and have become EMTs and we need them and we needed them so badly.

We have a gentleman with us tonight. I am proposing that $10 million to where we can continue funding this through my budget, and this program is unbelievable. There’s a fellow with us tonight. His name is Darrin Crosier and I absolutely, I want to read to you a quote that Darrin said. The glare on this is giving me a little bit of fit but I’ll hold it here. It says “I’m so thankful to be a part of something like this, to see tax dollars going to the betterment of West Virginians. We do this because we love West Virginia and we love our communities. This training has helped me in so many ways. It gave me a career and great health benefits for myself, my wife and my three children. This was very rewarding and it taught me that I could learn again.”

Please give a great big round of applause to again, one of our heroes, Darrin Crosier.

Think about nursing. Think about what we did.

We decided, you know, because we had extra dollars, we figured it all out and everything. We put $48 million into an absolute situation to be able to train and to retain and attract nurses to the state of West Virginia. It worked, didn’t it? It worked. We had 810 new nursing students enrolled in the first year. I am proposing that we add $30 million to this great program and continue the funding. And Genevieve, I think it’s Layne-Johnson, is with us tonight and if you could give her a great big round of applause. She is a graduate, she is working at WVU Medicine-Thomas.

And she graduated five months early. You know, I can’t ever say I graduated five months early. To be perfectly honest, when a lot of report cards people are talking about A’s and B’s, you know, I was very fortunate to make an A or B. Sometimes it wasn’t an A or B.

You know, our foster care system needs us to continue to step up, doesn’t it? That’s all there is to it. The kids need us so badly.

We made a move in dividing up DHHR. We have three great, great Secretaries now. There’s still tons of work to do. Tons and tons and tons of work to do.

We need CPS workers. We need more dollars. There’s been real improvement made. You know we’ve gone from vacancy numbers of 33% down to 17%. We’ve gone from youth services workers from 45 needed, that were vacancies, to 9. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But there’s so much more to do. At the end of the day, we need to do all we possibly can to help these families and help these kids and we’re going to do it.

Jobs and Hope is the same kind of story. What first started out as Jim’s dream, went to Jobs and Hope and everything. You know, there’s been 5,024 that have gone through the Jobs and Hope program and gotten jobs. 1,765 have gotten their driver’s license back. 1,244 aren’t on SNAP payments anymore. 

There’s a fella with us right now here tonight. His name is James Braswell. James was a graduate. James absolutely founded a solar design and installation company. A graduate, and founded a new company in the state and has hired two other additional people that went through Jobs and Hope. James, please stand. Let’s give you a great round of applause.

Corrections. Corrections were in the papers all the time. Absolutely, with all in us, we know. We all know we’ve got work to do there. We all know the simple, simple thing that happened. I mean for God’s sakes-a-livin,’ let’s just call it like it is. What happened was, you know, absolutely, everybody said, maybe subconsciously, but said, you know, we got to do this and we got to do this and we got to do this. And those folks did bad stuff.

And really, at the end of the rainbow. Maybe they were the last to get fed. We got to do stuff. And so we have, we have tried to step up and we’ve tried to do amazing, amazing work right now.

We have recently graduated 227 graduates that can now work in our jails all across the state.

You know, we are immediately effective as we speak. downsizing the National Guard in our facilities. And, it is my hope beyond belief that by the end of the summer, the National Guard will be out of our facilities and we will have solved this problem in many ways.

There’s a Corporal with us tonight. His name is James Hamilton. And absolutely I congratulate him in many, many, many different ways. You know, he worked at Mount Olive, he was in our National Guard and then decided the pasture is greener somewhere else because of lots of different factors.

And then all of a sudden, you know, we had pay raises, and we pushed the right buttons here and there. And he’s come home. And so he’s doing great work. And absolutely he has been honorably discharged from the National Guard. And he’s working full time at Mount Olive and he’s with us tonight. So James, please stand wherever you are.

Do this just while you’re standing and everything I want to hear you at the top of the realms and everything from the standpoint of just showing your appreciation and your love and your thanks for our National Guard. it is un-flat-believable what they do. 

I’ve told you this a million times. I’ve said over, and over and over. We owe every single thing we have, everything we have, first and foremost to God above. But secondly to our veterans. We do, and all those that are serving in our active military today. You know, this world today is spooky place.

That’s all there is to it.

But we have two people, Jamie and Gehan Springston. 

They absolutely came back and seeked education and they came back as veterans to West Virginia. Jamie is enrolled at Marshall right now. And he heads up the student vets chapter. Absolutely, these folks came back, why did they come back? Or why did they pick, rather, West Virginia? I’ll tell you why. They picked West Virginia. They picked West Virginia because there’s no personal income tax on their pensions. They absolutely picked West Virginia because they see us on a pathway to eradicating the income tax on them. We’ve made a big move at 21 and a quarter. We need to continue to make more, and more and more moves and they chose us. They could have gone anywhere. Absolutely, as they propagate this message through all the grapevines, it brings more and more super-qualified people to us. Our veterans. So Jamie and Gehan wherever you are, please stand.

I’m gonna stick with the Veterans. I’m gonna go quickly. I’m gonna stick with the veterans here for a minute, but I am announcing a bill tonight to give our all of our veterans, nobody’s going to pay out-of-state tuition. We’re going to pay in-state tuition in the state of West Virginia. In addition to that, two more initiatives. I want to spend $5 million to supercharge the Ascend program in West Virginia, and $2.5 million from a joint initiative recruitment of our big bases all across the land to bring more veterans to West Virginia. You know we truly, truly, truly do love and appreciate our vets. And absolutely, West Virginia has made the contributions and stepped up more than any other per capita state in the land.

We absolutely owe them, owe them, and so please support those initiatives. 

I want to talk to you just a second about Cathy and Communities in Schools.

You know, in all fairness, we started down a path and the beginnings where there wasn’t any money. There wasn’t any money to do anything. In all honesty, I remember, just remember, when they gave me the books the first go round and we looked, and for God’s sakes-a-living and we were halfway through the year. Like you’ll give a new Governor, you know, sometime about this time next year. What if that Governor got something that halfway through the year and he was told then you’re going to be $217 million short. What are you gonna do?

What are you gonna do? You have a constitutional amendment to have a balanced budget. What in the world is this about? And then they say that that’s not the bad news. The bad news into your first year 

(1:18 AUDIO DROPPED – Technical Difficulties – AUDIO BACK UP AT 1:20:41)

Cathy, you deserve so much credit, that’s all there is to it. There’s a wealth of people behind this but I am telling you, and you can put it in the bank, Jim Justice, if you believe anything he tells you in the world, you better believe this. I have been in school, after school, after school, after school. And I’ve seen it work, and work, and work and work.

There’s a fellow with us tonight, his name is Will Meadows.

He was at Huntington high school not long ago and his dad was a nurse at Kanawha County EMS. His dad died and Will probably didn’t know where in the world to turn. And things weren’t going well at all for Will. All of a sudden, the coordinator at the school and Will connected. Today, Will is a marketing major at Marshall University. And today he’s with us and the other thing that Will has done that will blow you away, is as soon as he got there, he loved photography. And he went to the athletic department and told him that he could take all these great pictures of the athletes and everything. And today, today he’s looked on and counted on as one of their shining stars in the athletic department. So wherever Will is please stand and give him a great big round of applause. 

I’m calling and asking for you to continue to fund this effort. They need $10 million. $10 million is a drop in the bucket for the amount of kids that we have touched in this program. I would like to tell you just one more thing real quick.

Cathy came up with the idea of bringing therapy dogs to schools. There’s 19 now in the schools, and there’s call after call after call every day of schools wanting a dog.

Absolutely. You may not think it’s much but it absolutely commits us to nurturing learning in lots of ways. 

I can tell you this story real quickly. If this doesn’t touch your heart I don’t know what does. Little kid, I think the kid is at Pineville Elementary. He has real problems, real real problems and everything. He’s in a wheelchair. He didn’t want to come to school. He didn’t want to come to school. We were losing him in every way. He got a dog at the school. And he got the dog all of a sudden he started coming to the school and he’d read to the dog.

This is a kid in elementary school. And then someone came to him and said, and he would hardly talk, and someone said to him how’s your day to day you know what his words were?

“Best day ever.”

Doing a lot of good stuff.

Our Teacher of the Year is with us tonight, Sharon Cole. She’s a 34-year veteran educator and she’s teaching the second grade at Ceredo-Kenova Elementary and it is the first time we have a winner from Wayne County. If Sharon Cole could stand please, give her a giant round of applause.

Our 2024 School Service Personnel of the Year winner is with us. His name is Gary Brydie and Gary is from Cabell County. He’s a school bus operator. And I am telling you if you don’t think for a second that we need all of our service personnel, you’re out in left field. These people are educators. These people are moms and dads, these people are everything to our kids. Where is Gary?

In the gallery we have sponsors Highmark, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Toyota are with us and everything tonight. Are y’all here anywhere?

Well, we’re clapping for you anyway. No, there you are. 

Okay, now I’m moving along. And I don’t have very far to go, but I just tell you just this, I’m gonna be really serious with you and you know me, I don’t blow smoke at people. I don’t have time to do it. And I don’t know how to tell you this any more point blank than just this: high school sports in this state’s really important.

Really really, really important. It binds communities together. It does all kinds of really good stuff.

I know. I know with the transfer rule and everything that you were trying to do the right thing, because we want choice. We want choice for our parents. I get all that. I get every bit of it, but if you don’t watch out, what’s going to happen and you gotta listen to a guy now this coach.

I tried to tell you before, but absolutely when you’ve got teams that are losing 93 to seven and 86 to nothing in football. It’s got to stop.

And we have made this situation to where we are going to absolutely, if we don’t watch out, we are going to ruin, and I said ruin, high school sports in West Virginia.

It’s going to really hurt us. Now I don’t know exactly what the right solution is. But I’m telling you there’s dadgum smart people in this room. And today I am absolutely pleading with you to figure it out. Get this back on the right kilter. It’s really important. You may absolutely not think for a second, well, what in the world, for crying out loud. My kids are grown and gone and everything else. Mine are too.

But I go and I go to be a coach and the reason I go to be a coach is because you see, before I tried to tell you, I don’t go on vacations. I don’t go anywhere. Because I think we live in the greatest place on the planet. That’s all there is to it. You don’t have to send me on any trips. I don’t need your dollars. I don’t need to go anywhere.

I love West Virginia and all the greatness that we have all around us. You got to listen to me on this. Some way, somehow we’ve got to resolve this. And we’ve got to stop this. The last thing I would tell you is just this, if this isn’t enough, I don’t know what is. 

Those kids had to go to school the next day.

You realize that? You just went on the football field and got beat 93 to 7, and you had to go to school the next day. What do you think those other kids in that school were saying to those kids? Kids can be tough. Now they really can. And they can be cruel.

We’ve got to fix this.

Helping kids, dual enrollment, 6,500 students have utilized. I am proposing $1.6 million of additional funding. I commend Fairmont State, Fairmont State, for stepping up and helping with our foster kids, giving an ability for high school students and everything to come to Fairmont State and study and get college credits and everything over and over and over. So many people are stepping up.

I’m really, really proud when we signed West Virginia Invest to have free community college. Since that time, 4,500 students have worked and worked with that grant. It’s good stuff.

I’ll talk to you just one second about dilapidated structures. You know, we passed Senate Bill 368. We’ve gotten rid of 500 structures that were just eyesores and problems and coke houses and whatever it may be.

You’ve helped it, but in total, in total, I think the DEP is projecting that we’ll do another 1,500 Or have 1,500 total. I don’t know what exactly it is, by the end or the summer of 2025.

We got a lot more.

Every time we make this move. We make us better. That’s all there is to it. We show ourselves off and make West Virginia shine even more.

I got to talk to you just a second about tourism. Tourism, I mean, good gracious, I could talk till the cows come home. I said to you earlier, I said, any time you’re thinking about it, anytime you have the opportunity to spend $1 on tourism, especially with the great Secretary Chelsea Ruby at hand, if you could spend $1, $1 on tourism, do it.

The world has awakened. The world has awakened to all that’s going on. I mean, just think, when I said close your eyes, one of the things, close your eyes. Think of the four unbelievable seasons. And the fact that two thirds of the population of our country can drive to us in a day.

Think about the money we spent on our State Parks. Did it work? Are you kidding me? You can hardly get in our state parks and think about the celebration of a new state park that we have. Absolutely right there in Summersville. So much going on. It is unbelievable. 
In 2017, Chelsea told me we had four straight years of tourism spending dropping in West Virginia.

Boy is that ever changed. So Chelsea, wherever you are, thank you so much. Keep it up.

We’ve got 40 more elk on the way to West Virginia. How about that?

Now that’s really good news. There’s some bad news with this. And this is not good. But one of our folks was down there and they were, I don’t know exactly what they’re doing, I don’t know all the details. But I wasn’t going to bring this up but I’ve got to tell you this and everything but one of our folks is down there, you know, working these elk and everything and getting ready for transport and had a tranquilizer gun, in some way, somehow, ended up shooting himself in the leg with it. Now that’s not a good day. Because, because the elk is a 500 pound animal and you just took a tranquilizer dart for a 500 pound animal and you may weigh 150 pounds. Not a good day at all. We were scared to death that we’re gonna lose him. We really, really thought we were gonna lose him. And now I think I can report to you that he’s in Nashville in the hospital. And he’s doing pretty good and I think it’s gonna be okay

Before I close, let me go back to just this, I want to talk to you for just a second about roads. You know, again, when I first walked into the Governor’s office, and they handed me those books, and they were tough, really tough. And I don’t know many things in this world but I’m a business guy and I know when somebody’s bankrupt, and if we weren’t bankrupt. I’d tell you you were crazy.

Literally from that, and this is where I really truly believe that God always shows up. Always. You see may not be on our timetable, but some way, somehow, God always shows up.

Of all things, it’s not a very pretty sight, block this out of your mind. But I was in the shower. Block it out of your mind. Now we’re good with that being way out of your mind.

And I thought what are we gonna do? What in the world are we gonna do? 

And then it just hit me. I said, I wonder what it would cost every breathing West Virginian if we let every road job that we had even remotely on the books, if we let them all go tomorrow, what would it cost? And that’s where the idea of Roads to Prosperity started. And off we went. And absolutely with that, whether it be the Grand Street Bridge or the bridges in Wheeling. You know, whether it be just getting yourself to the convenient mart because you couldn’t get there without tearing your car up before.

It’s unbelievable. Think about this number. In five years, we have done road work to, get this, to 485,333 miles of roads. In the Roads to Prosperity program, we’ve done 1,200 projects. It’s unbelievable.

And before I leave you I would tell you again, Absolutely with all in you finish Corridor H. We’re really close. We just approved another award today, we’re getting really close. Finish it, and absolutely finish the Coalfield Expressways and the King Coal Highway. Finish them.

The Coalfield. The Coalfield Expressway and the King Coal highway will bring southern West Virginia the world. And Corridor H, my gracious sakes-a-living in linking that up to DC and all the population and everything will bring us jobs like you can’t imagine.

Think about this, just one second.

In 2017, we very courageously came up and said we’re going to spend 1,400,000,000 billion dollars and then in 2020, it plummeted up another $5.1 billion dollars. And by the end of 2023 stood at $11.5 billion.

And in 2024, we’re representing that we’re going to spend another $2 billion dollars in projects.

These men and women from our highway department, you know I had to bring you something out here. But they have, they have a banner, but in, get this: So in total, that’s over $13.4 billion in cumulative infrastructure investment in West Virginia during my administration. 

And I want you to look, I want you to look at the number of projects and where they are. They’re everywhere. They’re blooming everywhere. And these folks are making it happen. Please give them a monstrous round of applause.

Good stuff, good, good stuff. 

I’ve been good up to now.

I’ve been good after now except a little, little kid at Pineville Elementary.

Now, let me just tell you this, now I probably could use your prayer just a little bit because this is really tough on me right here.

You know, I’ve got a story to tell you but I’ve got this to tell you and this is, this is where we end this. You know, I’m a real believer just like I said, God always shows up.

I’ve been so blessed. How in the world?

How in the world did I come up with the idea of Roads to Prosperity. How on Earth did I come up with it? Do you think there is any way that Jim Justice believes that he’s good enough to have come up with that idea? No way. No way.

In all honesty, I was given that idea. Absolutely. We have been blessed beyond all good sense.

And we should absolutely, always never forget that. Let me tell you a story real quick.

My basketball team, most of them that are up there.

Y’all stand up. Now, just stand there. This is gonna’ be really hard on you, but you can make it. Last year, we played Princeton twice in the regular season. Now we’re not used to losing at Greenbrier East.

But then we played them in a tournament. And, it just so happened Woodrow had the number one seed and so two and three had to play each other. And we played Princeton at our place. We were the two seed. Well, when we had played them in our place before, we’d won really big, but we played a really close game with Princeton not long ago and it was at Princeton.

So they came in and they played a really nice game, and we lost. And gosh, I was just fit to be tied. And probably all of them were pretty sad.

You know, this is hard to believe, but really for the most part when we’re on the floor, we have one Junior, a whole bunch of sophomores and a whole bunch of freshmen and that’s what we got. Now, so last year that a lot of them that were sophomores now were freshmen then.

But anyway, I’m on the way to Charleston the next day and I can’t get out of my mind, you know, how it went last night and it went terrible and we were out of the whole deal then, we were just gone.

It was over. And for a lot of kids. I mean, they’re just you know, they just feel like what in the world just happened?

And I walked in my office. Remember, I said just a minute ago. God always shows up.

So I walked in my office and Rebecca, who gives me letter, after letter, after letter. And lots of times there’s no way to keep up with reading all the letters, after letters, after letters, but we try. We try to read just every one we can get.

So Rebecca said, I don’t have any idea who this is. But you may want to read this. 

So in comes this letter to the Honorable Jim Justice.

It says Dear Coach, I was recently on a run with my two sons, and they started complaining about being tired. When they asked if we could walk instead of run, I told them to keep sawing the wood. After we completed the run, they asked me what did that phrase mean? While explaining it meant (and this very small print, so it’s hard for me to see it) but, while explaining it meant to persevere through adversity by continuing to make steady progress, I was reminded of when I first heard you use that phrase. 

While facing a large halftime deficit in the Sweet 16 tournament of the AAU National Tournament against the team from Ohio, you told me and the rest of the West Virginia All Stars to keep sawing the wood.

We had played very poorly in the first half and the beginning of your halftime speech was one of only a few times I ever saw you express crude disappointment in our effort. However, you reminded us that we could come back, just as we did, if we’d just keep sawing the wood. As you already know, we came back and won that game and went on to advance to the quarterfinals of the National AAU Tournament.

Then he says, although we won this specific game, and many others, the life lessons we learned while playing basketball for you were far more important than the outcome of the game.

When I was at Army Ranger school or on a military deployment, I reminded myself daily to keep sawing the wood.

Now, I apply it in the business world and as a father. Thank you for your leadership you provided during my youth, and more broadly for your leadership to the great State of West Virginia. With only a few days or months left remaining as Governor. I encourage you to keep sawing the wood. Please send my regards to Cathy and Jay and Jill. Below is my current contact information if you would like to contact me. Note I currently reside in Germany.

I have with us tonight, a real American hero, one of many, many, many. A West Point graduate, Matt Fitzwater. And, get this, he served as an Army officer in the field artillery branch. He obtained the rank of captain. He completed three combat deployments to Iraq. He won the Bronze Star or was awarded the Bronze Star, the combat action badge, the Ranger tab, the Parachute Badge and the Air Assault badge.

It’s amazing. I had not heard from Matt Fitzwater in 25 years and there was his letter. And it stood for every single thing that I stand for. You see, I believe that God always shows up. And I believe in my life that what we all, every last one of you, should be doing is trying to make things better. Trying to make things better in every way you possibly can.

You see, if I’m coaching a basketball team, I’ll put my record up against anybody, anywhere, anytime, because we want to win just as much as anybody wants to win. 

But, I’m going to tell you right now, when those kids leave me, if all I can give them is the ability to dribble the basketball better, then I haven’t done much.

You absolutely can do so much for this great state, it’s unbelievable.

Some way, right here with this is Matt Fitzwater and his family, his mom and dad Donna and Randy and I want the roof to come off of this, because it’s a great American hero. 

And absolutely, I don’t know where you are, Matt, but wherever you are, stand up.

Matt’s team, a little ragtag bunch of kids from Beckley, West Virginia, Jay, one of them, my son right here. Unbelievable experience, wasn’t it Matt?

But all that being said, Matt was a point guard. With all that being said, I’ll ask you right now to do what I asked you to do, just a little while ago, I told you I was gonna ask you to do.

I want you to just close your eyes. Just one second. Just one second.

And imagine that place that abounds in natural resources beyond belief, like I said before, is close to two thirds of the population of the country, has for unbelievable seasons and the greatest people on the planet.

But imagine the state is booming job after job, company after company, hope and belief beyond belief. Travel guides say West Virginia of all places is the place to be.

And now open your eyes and know that place is us, is West Virginia.

I would say to each and every one of you keep sawing the wood. 

God bless you. Thank you.