The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


February 26, 2014

Conflict of interests

The West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that calls for stricter conflict-of-interest requirements for the attorney general.

Passed along party lines on a 52-44 vote, the proposal moves on to the Senate.

The controversial bill has had delegates at loggerheads with Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who says it is an unconstitutional attack that singles out one officeholder.

Democrats disagree, arguing the attorney general should be held to a higher standard since he holds a unique position with executive and legal powers. A few Democrats directly targeted Morrisey, who has been under scrutiny for ties to two companies the state is suing.

We think the bill, once all the politics are set aside, can be a good thing for West Virginia.

We don’t intend to impugn Morrisey, who has recused himself from the two cases that he inherited from the previous AG. Morrisey had ties to the companies involved long before he took the office he now serves.

A comment from Speaker of the House Tim Miley puts it into perspective: “When you strip away personalities and politics, it comes down to the simple question: Is this good public policy? I truly believe this is.”

We agree.

And we understand why legislators picked the attorney general’s office as the test case of sorts for the proposal.

After years of questionable actions by former AG Darrell McGraw and with Morrisey’s ties to companies the state is suing, it just seems like good sense.

To prove that it isn’t all about politics, however, as Morrisey has suggested, significant thought ought to be given to pulling other elected officers under its umbrella as well.

The AG’s office isn’t the only place where hanky-panky goes on. Case in point: the oddities uncovered by last year’s audit of the Department of Agriculture.

And while we agree the House-approved bill is a solid move, we don’t like the fact that some lawmakers are second-guessing Morrisey’s loyalty and ethics toward his job.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said on the House floor Monday that some legislators aren’t sure Morrisey is going to keep his duty to loyally and to aggressively represent the state. “Or whether maybe he is more loyal to the company that paid his wife millions of dollars.”

Such charges seem harsh when there aren’t any firm indications that such things are happening.

If lawmakers have more proof of untoward actions by Morrisey, now would be the time to air them — and not let innuendo rule the day.

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