WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — West Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Cole and Democratic opponent Jim Justice touted their lengthy resumes and passions for creating jobs during a gathering of state business leaders Thursday.
The two spoke separately at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s annual business meeting at The Greenbrier resort, which Justice owns.
Cole is the state Senate president from Mercer County and owns car dealerships in West Virginia and Kentucky.
“Thirty years in business and four years in state government have convinced me that with the right plan and the right people working together, West Virginia can write the next chapter of the great American comeback story,” Cole said.
He then took a shot at Justice, who earlier told the audience that he owns 102 businesses, including coal and agricultural interests.
“West Virginia has full-time problems that require full-time solutions,” Cole said. “We need a full-time governor who is exclusively committed to moving our state forward.”
Justice said voters who question how he can devote his time to being governor with his other commitments should know that he’s very organized.
He drew similarities between his own business interests and those of his audience. The three-day meeting had more than three dozen sponsors and business booths lining the outer walls of the conference room.
“I’m you. I’m just plain you,” Justice said.
Justice, who bought The Greenbrier out of bankruptcy in 2009 and brought a PGA Tour event to the resort starting in 2010, told the audience to “judge my deeds. Judge what I do. Tell me one thing I’ve ever promised you I would do that I didn’t do.”
Justice said Cole doesn’t have the experience, the expertise or the contacts to be a successful governor and market West Virginia to the world.
Cole focused his speech on calling for investments in education, infrastructure and high-speed internet and his efforts in the Legislature at improving the state’s business climate.
The West Virginia Chamber plans to endorse a candidate for governor in the fall. The election is Nov. 8.
Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is leaving because of term limits.
Justice and Cole will have head-to-head debates on Oct. 4 and 11 at the Clay Center in Charleston.
Justice also said that despite thousands of layoffs in the Appalachian coal industry in recent years, he predicted that West Virginia mines will see a turnaround. He said metallurgical coal prices have stabilized in the past two months.
“We have not seen the end of our miners and we have not seen the end of coal,” Justice said.
Justice also announced at the meeting that his daughter, Jill Justice, has been named president of The Greenbrier.