When Gov. Jim Justice, kicking off a campaign year, starts touting exaggerated employment statistics to prove the worth of his work, and when he does that in a controlled venue where no one – let alone the pesky press – can ask critical questions, it’s OK to question what he is saying. Because the truth can, and often does, say something quite different when allowed to show its face.
When Justice – in the same week – launches his first campaign advertisement arguing for re-election based on how much he cares about the people of his state – “Jim Cares,” the ad is called – check first on how his administration treats the children, especially some 7,000 of the most vulnerable in the state’s foster care system.
We will have plenty of time in the year ahead to slice and dice all of what Justice has done for the state – where he has fallen short and what the next governor needs to attend to. But if messaging from the governor’s office in the coming election year is anything like this past week – and let’s be clear, he is trying to control the narrative – then he will be doing the state a great disservice and it will be a clear indication that he has abandoned fact for fiction all in the name of shameless self-promotion.
At a news conference this past Monday morning at the state Capitol, Justice crowed that the state had gained 19,000 jobs over the past year. The best numbers, he said, that the state had seen in the past 10 years.
And, indeed, the data set the governor was using showed just that. Produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Local Area Unemployment Statistics had West Virginia’s employment at 763,000, almost exactly 19,000 more than a year ago October when the number stood at 744,014.
On face value, and without question, job growth of 2.5 percent is an impressive performance.
But what the governor was not saying – and we have to assume that he knows the difference – those rosy calculations come from a monthly compilation that relies heavily on household surveys and, as such, are highly volatile and not especially accurate.
John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, told MetroNews, “The numbers we trust the most are not showing anywhere near the 19,000 jobs over the past year.”
According to more reliable government-produced numbers, West Virginia increased employment, year over year, by 3,000 – or about .4.
Not exactly robust and not exactly a fact the governor wanted to brag about, apparently. So, yes, he goes with a better number – despite its lack of credibility – for the sake of a story he was dying to tell. About himself.
Likewise, the governor’s first video campaign ad this election cycle dances around broken glass across our economic landscape and instead addresses the governor’s plan to deal with the opioid crisis, fixing the state’s roads and – for what it is worth in the work-a-day world of West Virginians – his relationship with President Donald Trump.
No, he did not mention that the Department of Health and Human Resources has been sued for, according to the lawsuit, failing West Virginia children. The lawsuit, filed by credible outfits, claims compounding issues with the state’s foster care system and asks for reform, top to bottom.
But the governor did not talk about the kids in his campaign ad.
Here’s the deal. We all know that West Virginia has problems aplenty. We bump into them daily. But they aren’t going to get solved if we are not honest with one another – from the governor on down. Facts are facts and no amount of political spin will change the outcomes.
In these serious times, we need serious people to lead consequential discussions about how to go about fixing all that keeps parents awake at night. Our state is at the tail end of one national ranking after another. We have problems stunting our economic livelihood and impeding social progress.
If the governor cares, he needs to be forthcoming with the unadulterated truth, tell us how it is, and then share and explain any plans he has drawn up on the white board. He should care less about the political consequences, about wining another term in office.
We happen to believe that if our state leaders address issues honestly and earnestly, the scoreboard will take care of itself.