West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, is running for Senate against incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin — and it means Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is in big, big trouble.
Manchin finds himself in a vulnerable spot. He represents the most Republican constituency of any Democrat in Congress. According to one poll, the two-term senator is polling 22 points behind his Republican challenger.
All the while, the Senate Democrats are trying to hold seats in Trump-voting states like Ohio and Montana. Other Democrats are facing Senate races in closely divided states like Nevada and Michigan. All in all, more than 30 Senate Democrats will face re-election in 2024, with only 10 Republicans facing challengers.
Schumer seems to be panicking… and a top Schumer surrogate just tried to stop Justice’s rise with a lawsuit.
The Democratic party’s U.S. Senate campaign arm is asking a Charleston-based judge to order the release of Justice’s calendar.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) filed a lawsuit against Justice’s office Tuesday in Charleston-based Kanawha County Circuit Court in response to an April 13 rejection of public records pertaining to the state leader’s schedule, according to court records.
“Jim Justice cannot hide his work schedule — or lack thereof — from West Virginians, and this is an area which is sure to receive further scrutiny in his nasty primary and in a court of law,” committee spokesperson David Bergstein said in a press release announcing the suit.
Justice, whose family owns dozens of companies and The Greenbrier luxury resort near the Virginia border, was the most wealthy man in all of West Virginia when elected governor in 2016. For two terms, he’s been dogged by criticism that he’s rarely at the Statehouse and accused of being a “part-time governor.” His office has been reticent to share his calendar, saying it isn’t a true reflection of his work schedule.
Justice announced last month he was entering the 2024 race for U.S. Senate, joining a GOP primary where he will be pitted against U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, who announced his run for Manchin’s seat less than a week after his reelection to the House in November.
Manchin has not yet officially announced whether he will run for reelection in 2024. The senator had recruited Justice to run for governor as a Democrat before Justice switched to the GOP at a rally for former U.S. President Donald Trump during his first term.
Justice’s campaign quickly pushed back against the Democrats’ suit on Tuesday, calling it nothing more than a political ploy. Justice campaign manager Roman Stauffer said the governor is “the frontrunner in this campaign for U.S. Senate.”
“The polling shows that he beats every other candidate,” Stauffer said in a statement. “Chuck Schumer and the Democrats are panicking and will do everything they can to prop up Alex Mooney, whom they know they can easily beat in the General Election.”
The lawsuit states that Justice’s office has refused to produce “the most basic records from his time as Governor: lists of the official meetings scheduled for him and his most senior staff.” The committee is asking a judge to rule that the governor is violating public records law and to prohibit him from “withholding records without justification.”
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Justice is tangentially related to some lawsuits at the federal level.
As of Tuesday, thirteen coal companies owned by the family of Justice are being sued over unpaid penalties for previous mining law violations that the federal government says pose health and safety risks or threaten environmental harm.
The lawsuit named Justice’s adult son but not Justice himself. Still, the Senate candidate has accused the Biden administration of retaliation.
“I’ve announced as a Republican that I’m running for the U.S. Senate. The Biden administration is aware of the fact that with a win for the U.S. Senate and everything, we could very well flip the Senate,” Justice said. “There’s a lot at stake right now.”
The lawsuit filed Tuesday says that over the past five years, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement cited the companies for more than 130 violations. The lawsuit says the total amount of penalties, fees, interest and administrative expenses owed by the defendants is about $7.6 million.
U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh of the Western District of Virginia said the defendants were ordered more than 50 times to stop mining activities until the violations were corrected.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.