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West Virginia Governor Discusses His $100 Offer To Young People Who Get Vaccinated

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To West Virginia now, where we'll hear from Republican Governor Jim Justice about two developments in his state. Yesterday, the governor signed legislation barring transgender girls and women from participating on girls' and women's sports teams. It's part of a wave of such legislation. Similar bills have been introduced in some 30 states.

We also spoke about his effort to move the needle on vaccinations. Back in February, West Virginia was leading in coronavirus vaccination rates, but that momentum has stalled. Now Governor Jim Justice has announced a plan to give a $100 savings bond to any resident between the ages of 16 and 35 who gets the vaccine. When we spoke earlier on Skype, we started with why he thinks his state's vaccination rates have stalled out.

JIM JUSTICE: You know why? Because the Johnson & Johnson situation caused some resistance. Absolutely, there are a percentage of the people - not nearly as much as you may think - that just are hard-headed and just are not going to take the vaccine, period. And then you've got people that are 16 to 35 years of age, a population in West Virginia that's 400,000, that really think they're invincible.

CORNISH: You're talking about pretty tough ideas to overcome - right? - people who might have distrust. Why would those same people overcome that for a savings bond?

JUSTICE: Well, I'm not going to tell you that that's a silver bullet and that they're going to do it over a savings bond. But we have to continue to try, do we not, Audie? I mean, you know, we can just lay down and say, well, we've done great in West Virginia. We've done great in the nation. Let's just don't do anymore.

CORNISH: Well, I don't ask because of the idea of lying down, but because, you know, if someone turns on Fox News, if someone turns on Joe Rogan's podcast, you're hearing voices - powerful voices for those constituencies - cast a lot of doubt on this process. And are you trying to counter that?

JUSTICE: Well, I believe in the science, and I believe in my medical experts. And without any question, the idea that we can just stop the vaccinations that we gave everything in the world to bridge ourselves and get to is ridiculous. And this situation absolutely is going to go on and on. And then the variants are going to come into play, and they're going to whiplash on us and everything, and this could turn into one ugly situation.

And we're so close to getting there. We're so close to being able to break the chain, period. All we've got to do is some way convince a part of the reluctancy of our kids, a part of the reluctancy of the hard-headed, I say, and absolutely get across the finish line. And I'm not willing to give up. I'm not willing to just lay down and say, oh, no, it'll all be fine because it won't all be fine.

CORNISH: I want to move on to something else since you're talking about kids - the law that you signed yesterday barring transgender kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender. There has been a lot of opposition to this publicly. Many business groups have spoken out as well as some college students. Can you talk about why you decided to sign it?

JUSTICE: Well, Audie, to tell you the truth, from the standpoint of our middle school and our high school kids, I was all-in right from the get-go. From the standpoint of bringing in the college kids, you know, I had some reluctance because of just knowing the NCAA and how they would feel about this and everything. And I didn't want to - I didn't want to do something that would cause additional harm. I may very well just let it go into law. I would either sign it or let it go into law. And then I said to myself, you know, I'm a coach. I coach high school girls right now. And I can't in my mind think that it's right from the standpoint of how hard that the girls have worked towards Title IX...

CORNISH: But given this experience you're talking about, have you had a single example of a transgender child trying to gain unfair competitive advantage?

JUSTICE: No, I have not.

CORNISH: Then why sign such a bill?

JUSTICE: Because evidently, it is out there. And when I - I mean, I can absolutely promise you, Audie, that just this - that if you have that situation, you're going to disadvantage girls that absolutely have worked so hard to get to where they are. And that's not fair in my mind.

CORNISH: I understand the argument you're making here. I'm also asking you for the evidence behind it. You know, you've had collegiate and professional sports organizations that have had trans-inclusive policies for years without incident. Why would West Virginia need the special ban?

JUSTICE: Audie, first of all, I want you to know this - and again, trying to be perfectly fair - you know, that's one thing I am. I'm hung up on the truth all the time. This wasn't a bill that I prioritized. This wasn't my bill. This is a bill, like hundreds of other bills, that come to me for my signature or my veto.

CORNISH: But, Governor, as leader of the state, I don't know if that argument really works. I mean, you are - you set the priorities for yourself.

JUSTICE: I very proudly am signing the bill. And the reason that I've signed the bill is just this - I know that we worked really hard for Title IX. And now if we did have students, transgender students that we're trying to compete with the girls, it would put the girls at a significant disadvantage. I am all for...

CORNISH: And to be clear, from the point of view that these advocates, transgender children are children. Trans girls are girls, and they would be competing, you know, within their cohort.

JUSTICE: Audie, there's no point - and we can volley on this all day long. But in my opinion - and this is just how I feel. Absolutely, I think that it would disadvantage girls that are trying to compete and have worked so hard to be able to have the right to compete. And so in that, I just can't be a proponent. I just can't do that.

CORNISH: Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia, thank you for your time today.

JUSTICE: Thank you, Audie. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.