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CHARLESTON — In his second inaugural address Friday, Gov. Jim Justice declared that “West Virginia is really on the move,” even as the state and the world confront a historic pandemic.

Justice touted his belief that West Virginia is a “diamond in the rough” that is beginning to attract attention on a national scale, but unlike his first address, his speech Friday gave little indication of what his agenda for the upcoming legislative session will be.

He called on the attendance-restricted and socially distanced gathering at the north steps of the Capitol to imagine a West Virginia that is a world-class tourist destination, that features top-notch schools, has a diversified economy with a highly trained workforce, and has premier roads and infrastructure.

“Imagine economic development soaring beyond belief, because people are waking up and realizing it’s the place they want to be,” Justice said of a post-COVID-19 West Virginia.

Friday’s inauguration on a sunny and comfortably crisp afternoon offered a number of contrasts from 2017, and not just because of the scaled-down nature of holding inaugural ceremonies in the midst of a pandemic.

The ceremony was moved from the traditional location on the south steps of the Capitol, facing the Kanawha River, because of construction on the Capitol’s south plaza.

In 2017, Justice took the oath of office as a Democrat, one of two Democrats sworn in that day. On Friday, Justice was sworn in as a Republican and there were no Democrats taking oaths of office.

In 2017, the ceremony took place on the traditional date of the first Monday after the first Wednesday in January. This year, Justice moved the inauguration to Friday.

{iframe src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/wVy3jb_hbZ8” frameborder=”0” width=”560” height=”315”}{/iframe}Meanwhile, a small combo band stood in for the brass band and choir that traditionally perform at inaugurations.

However, there were some constants in both ceremonies.

Bob Cochran, of Beckley, a longtime Justice employee, business associate and friend, spoke at both ceremonies.

Also at both, Justice praised then-incoming, now former president Donald Trump.

In 2017, Justice revealed his friendship with Trump and his family, stating, “The next four years are going to really be something special.”

On Friday, he said of Trump, “In many, many ways, our president did so many good things. We should be absolutely grateful for all he’s given us.”

Justice on Friday also acknowledged President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, saying, “I want them to know they are always welcome in West Virginia.”

Perhaps most notably, Justice brought back two props from his 2017 inaugural address, an ax and a tackle box he said he bought from a poor woman selling items along the side of the road in southern West Virginia, items he said he bought for $100 each.

“I really feel bad about it to this day because I should have given her every dime I had on me,” said Justice, a billionaire and the wealthiest man in West Virginia.

Justice reiterated Friday how that interaction convinced him to run for governor.

“I knew she was hurting. I knew in my heart, and I knew exactly what my job had to be,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic loomed large over the ceremony Friday, with a moment of silence for the 2 million worldwide who have died from the virus, including more than 400,000 Americans and more than 1,850 West Virginians.

Members of the state COVID-19 task force — Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar; Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch; state Public Health Officer Ayne Amjad; and interagency task force director James Hoyer — offered comments and words of praise for health care professionals, National Guard members and first responders.

Justice suggested national publicity regarding state efforts for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations is a reason why the nation is taking notice of West Virginia.

Unlike his 2017 address, Justice provided no clues about his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

In 2017, Justice alluded to proposals to enhance highway construction through the sale of Road Bonds, and to increase teacher pay and state tourism spending — measures that eventually passed the Legislature — as well as a plan to increase taxes to close a nearly $500 million state budget deficit.

That proposal did not fly in the Republican-controlled Legislature, ultimately leading to a months-long budget impasse that included Justice’s use of a silver platter of cow manure to show his disdain for the Legislature’s version of the state budget.

Prior to the ceremony Friday, Charleston businessman Howard Swint trampled a Confederate flag in front of the Stonewall Jackson statue on the Capitol grounds to protest Justice’s refusal to address calls to remove the statue, along with a bust of Jackson in the Capitol rotunda.

“Gov. Justice, what does it take for you to finally hear the cries of the people who are great Americans to finally take down a statue to the rebellion that was against West Virginia statehood?” asked Swint, a longtime proponent of moving the statuary from their prominent locations.

Swint said the Confederate flag and Jackson statue represent hate speech and are symbols of opposition to civil rights and school integration.

He noted the flag was carried by some members of the mob that rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overthrow the election of Joe Biden as president.

“You cannot hold this flag and be a patriot,” Swint said. “You can’t look at this statue and claim that this is a patriot.”

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@hdmediallc.com, 304 348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@hdmediallc.com, 304 348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.