Anthony Izaguirre began hearing the chatter about West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as soon as he started work as the AP’s statehouse correspondent in Charleston, West Virginia, in late February. Various sources told him Justice – a billionaire who owns mines, farms and a swanky resort – wasn’t fully engaged, was missing from major legislative debates and hadn’t even been in the capital, Charleston, much since taking office in 2017.
Noting that the Gazette-Mail, Charleston’s daily paper, wrote a story about how Justice denied their request for his schedule a year ago, Izaguirre put in a similar records request on March 8. The governor’s office told Izaguirre what they’d told the paper: The schedule wasn’t accurate, it was in draft format, and releasing it might cause security risks.
Izaguirre didn’t surrender. Instead he engaged AP lawyer Brian Barrett, who wrote a letter eviscerating those arguments on March 19. On May 6, the governor’s office released the calendar to the AP – and only the AP.
When the governor’s office declined his request for records, Izaguirre turned to AP lawyer Brian Barrett, who wrote an eviscerating letter. Izaguirre got his records.
By that time, Izaguirre had done the legwork that gave the story its backbone. He talked to lawmakers in both parties about the governor’s lack of engagement. He dug into a lawsuit accusing the governor of not living in Charleston at all. And he used social media, paired with everything publicly available about events the governor had attended, to cobble together a record of Justice’s activities. Izaguirre’s story hit the wire May 10, shortly after the governor declined AP’s request for an interview.
The AP’s exclusive depiction of a governor who seemed to have better things to do than govern was picked up prominently in West Virginia. The Gazette-Mail ran the story above the fold on their front page and then, in an editorial, praised AP’s “dogged and commendable persistence.” The Huntington Herald-Dispatch ran an online poll about the story. Reporters took to Twitter to praise Izaguirre’s work. The story also resonated beyond the state’s borders, and it garnered more than 4,000 social engagements.
For his resolute work to obtain public records and his thorough reporting to fill out a story no one else in the state could land, Izaguirre wins this week’s Best of the States award.