The governor of West Virginia and the president of the Liberty University came together on Tuesday and urged conservative counties and cities in Virginia to leave that state and join its western neighbor.
“If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere you may be,” Gov. Jim Justice said.
“I think it makes sense,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. added later. “I would vote for it.”
In a 30-minute press conference on the issue, the pair cited the recent Democratic wave that swept state government in Virginia, leaving the Republican Party out of power in the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers for the first time in nearly three decades. The Democrats have pushed a gun reform package that’s led to calls in some counties to resist efforts to enforce new gun laws, and to a tense pro-gun rally last week that left the state on edge.
“Sounds like it’s an election year in West Virginia,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s press secretary Alena Yarmosky told TPM, asked about the Falwell-Justice proposal.
Flanked by gyrating robotic arms at BlueRidge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the pair called for local governments in the Virginia to pursue petition drives, get non-binding resolutions on the ballot, and extract their communities from Old Dominion to join the Mountain State — but only after approval from the Virginia General Assembly, an uncertain proposition to say the least.
Kentucky and West Virginia were both once part of Virginia, Falwell noted; Kentucky split in 1792 and West Virginia in 1863. He urged Virginians “to make history in our time by pushing back against tyranny in Washington and in Richmond.”
“I hope history will also record, one day, how Virginia divided once again in our decade — because the interests of those in Richmond were so divergent from those of us to the west, just as they were for Kentucky and West Virginia,” Falwell said.
The press conference revealed some confusion about the law. Falwell admitted he was not aware of whether the U.S. Congress would have to approve the re-drawing of state lines he proposed.
“We don’t know that yet. Last time it split, we weren’t part of the United States, we were part of the Confederate States of America,” he said.
And Justice, who treated the press conference as a long infomercial for his state, said at one point that the offer to join West Virginia “extends to Maryland, it extends to California, it extends to anywhere and everywhere!”
Falwell did some quick clean-up work.
“On Maryland — it is true, Virginia and West Virginia are the only states that have had this historic relationship and this historic fluid border,” he said. “So it might be tougher with other states, I don’t know.”
Still, even Falwell’s endorsement of redrawing the two states’ boundaries seemed somewhat rushed.
After all, it was just two weeks ago that several delegates in the West Virginia House introduced a resolution “for the admission of certain counties and independent cities of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be admitted to the State of West Virginia.” The state’s Senate heard a similar resolution. Falwell said he’d only “recently” learned about the West Virginia resolution from his son, Trey.
And just last Thursday, Liberty University came out against a Northam budget proposal that would block online students from receiving the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, a state-funded check for enrollees at private institutions that came out to $3,400 per undergraduate per year last year, and could rise to $4,000 this year.
“Two thousand of those students [affected by the proposal] are Liberty University online students,” Falwell n0ted Tuesday, comparing the proposal to the gun legislation and other liberal efforts in Virginia. (Yarmosky told TPM the program is intended to offset the “brick and mortar costs associated with attending college.”)
The press conference, Falwell said Tuesday, was “all put together on a tight timespan” after nightly phone calls between himself and the governor “for at least a week.”
Watch the press conference below: