Gov. Jim Justice proposed the long-shot bid during a news conference Tuesday with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.
“If you’re not happy where you’re at, come on down,” Justice said. “If you’re not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere you may be. We stand strongly behind the Second Amendment, and we stand strongly for the unborn.”
Democrats regained control of Virginia’s General Assembly in November for the first time in more than two decades.
Democratic lawmakers quickly pledged to enact gun control measures, loosen abortion restrictions and prohibit discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The proposal sparked backlash from conservatives and prompted a gun-rights rally earlier this month that drew thousands from across the country, some dressed in tactical gear bearing weapons.
“What’s happening in Virginia right now is a tragedy in the making,” said Falwell, who heads the evangelical university that was started by his father. “Democrat leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake, and they are using their power to strip away the God-given rights held by every person in the state, despite their due protections under the U.S. Constitution.”
Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said of the proposal: “Sounds like it’s an election year in West Virginia.”
“What are they doing, a comedy routine?” said Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, a Democrat, said Justice should focus on addressing his state’s high poverty rate, calling the idea “preposterous.”
The process to make secession happen is convoluted. Falwell said he was told by lawyers that Virginia counties would need to conduct petition drives, followed by a referendum. If successful, the proposal would go before the Virginia General Assembly.
West Virginia lawmakers have introduced resolutions inviting parts of Virginia to join their state. One targeted Virginia’s Frederick County but didn’t find much support.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.