Trump veterans join Justice’s re-election team

CHARLESTON — President Donald Trump is sending help to Gov. Jim Justice for the 2020 re-election effort which could see a new challenger.

The Justice campaign announced Monday that Mike Lukach was joining the re-election team as campaign manager. Lukach was previously a part of Donald Trump’s 2016 Republican campaign for president.

“Gov. Justice’s policies have unleashed the nation’s fastest-growing economy, have given the state a conservative Supreme Court for the first time and are fixing the state’s roads and its schools,” Lukach said. “And I know better than anyone that no one has been a better partner for President Trump than Jim Justice.”

“I’m a businessman, so I know how badly mismanaged our state was when I took it over two years ago,” said Justice. “With a lot of hard work, we’ve brought West Virginia back from the dead and finally have us on the right track — now we need to finish the job.”

Lukach comes to the Justice team after serving as the state director of Trump’s campaign in Minnesota and Colorado during the 2016 election. He previously worked for the campaign of former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in 2015. He went on to become a special assistant and White House liaison for the Department of Veteran Affairs before returning to elections, managing the campaign of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey during the 2018 elections.

Last week, Politico announced that Trump 2020 staffers Bill Stepien and Justin Clark were joining the Justice campaign as advisors. Stepien and Clark also worked on the 2016 campaign and served in the White House.

Justice won the 2016 race for governor as a registered Democrat, defeating former Republican senate president Bill Cole. During a visit by Trump to Huntington in August 2017, Justice announced to the crowd that he was switching his registration to Republican after speaking with the president.

“Like it or not, the Democrats walked away from me,” Justice said at the Trump rally. “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor…I will be changing my registration to Republican. As a coach, I would tell you it’s time to run another play.”

“Having Big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” Trump said after the two shook hands and embraced. “He’s a fantastic man. A fantastic guy.”

The hires come a week after several events had negative impacts on the governor, including resolutions of no confidence in the governor by two county Republican executive committees and the West Virginia Federation of College Republicans. The groups have called on Justice to follow the state Republican Party platform, specifically supporting school choice and the state’s Right to Work law currently before the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

Also last week, an article in Forbes — a popular business magazine — detailed unpaid bills, fines, and penalties Justice’s companies owe. And the Department of Justice subpoenaed the state Commerce Department for records pertaining to Old White Charities which manages the Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament.

There are 11 candidates who have filed pre-candidacy paperwork in order to raise campaign funds, including four Republicans. Of those four, only former Berkeley County delegate Mike Folk has reported raising any money.

Woody Thrasher, the former Commerce Department secretary in the Justice administration who resigned in 2018 when issues arose from the department’s handling of disaster recovery funding, is expected to announce his candidacy for governor this morning. Like Justice, Thrasher changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican in March.


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