Trump, personal debts define West Virginia governor debate

Published: Oct. 12, 2016 at 10:57 AM EDT
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In their second and final debate Tuesday, West Virginia's Democratic nominee for governor answered for the millions of dollars in unpaid bills and fines at his companies, and his Republican opponent maintained his support for embattled GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

At the debate in Charleston, billionaire Democratic businessman Jim Justice explained the unpaid taxes and safety fines at his companies' coal mines as a product of facing a grim coal industry and juggling so many business dealings.

He said he owns 102 companies, writes 7,750 checks daily, and in terms of paying back his debts, "may be a little late here and there, but I'll always be at the party." He said he has kept his coal companies running while the industry faces widespread bankruptcy.

The comments come in the wake of a National Public Radio report that showed Justice owes $15 million in unpaid taxes and mine safety penalties. Justice also said Tuesday that he's a big target, but he doesn't want any sympathy.

"You saw every great coal company in the world belly up," Justice said of coal companies that went bankrupt. "They stiffed everybody. I just kept digging. It's tough. It's really tough at times. But we didn't give up."

Republican state Senate President Bill Cole denounced Trump for the recently revealed video where he made lewd comments about how he could "do anything" to women because of his celebrity.

But Cole, who has run ads showing him introduce Trump at a rally in Charleston, said he still supports the GOP billionaire for his pro-coal positions. Trump, who defies economic forecasts by promising to bring coal jobs back, is widely supported in the Mountain State. But Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said he might "reexamine his candidacy" after the lewd remarks surfaced.

"It was demeaning to women and I don't support one thing within those comments," Cole said of the Trump video. "Having said that, in West Virginia, we have a choice, a very clear choice, between a candidate, Donald Trump, that is going to support our fossil fuel industries, our coal and natural industries, and we have a candidate, Jim's candidate, Hillary Clinton, that is out to destroy our coal industry and out to destroy our natural gas industry."

Justice later said he will leave the ballot blank for the presidential ticket. He said it would be "preposterous" for a coal man like himself to endorse Clinton. Clinton has faced backlash in the state for her support of President Barack Obama's policies that target coal-fired power plants to deal with climate change.

Justice said he's friends with the Trump family. President Bill Clinton came to his office four years ago to talk about ideas, he added.

"I can work with either party, but I am absolutely sitting this out, because I am terribly disappointed in both of you," Justice said of the presidential field.

Justice carried himself in folksy broad strokes about being a job creator — he called himself "Santa Claus" and said "I love everyone," Democrat or Republican.

He repeated a plan to borrow up to $200 million to avoid levying higher taxes and making huge cuts to government program. He said he first would look to sweep some special revenue accounts and hope that a bounce-back in some tax revenue from coal will continue.

Cole said the $200 million idea is a nonstarter. He said government downsizing is necessary, and wouldn't rule out higher taxes to cover hundreds of millions of dollars of a projected budget hole.

Justice and Cole are vying to fill Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's seat. Tomblin is reaching his two-consecutive-term limit.

Third-party candidates Charlotte Pritt of the Mountain Party, Phil Hudok of the Constitution Party and Libertarian candidate David Moran were not invited to participate. Several of them protested outside the debate.


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You can watch the first debate in the video below: