— In advance of next month’s General Election, The Register-Herald invited all candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senator, U.S. House of Representatives, Governor, State Supreme Court, Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner to appear before our editorial board. Those candidate interviews conclude today with Republican Patrick Morrisey who is running for Attorney General.
Prescription drug abuse has become a major issue and concern for communities throughout West Virginia. As the attorney general, what can you do to help combat and decrease these problems?
MORRISEY: Prescription drug abuse is a very serious problem facing the state. As Attorney General I would like to work very closely with the county prosecutors to develop a state-based strategy to tackle prescription drug abuse. The fact is, right now, the Attorney General’s Office lacks the criminal prosecutorial authority to really go after some of the people who are responsible for this problem. So, what we should do is develop a new structure, which would allow the state attorney general to work in tandem with the local prosecutors to really go after and target the individuals peddling these illicit drugs and make sure we have a healthy workforce that’s able to take advantage of the work opportunities here in the state. The prescription drug abuse problem is very real. A lot of businesses that I’ve talked to have struggled to find workers who are clean. That’s a real problem. Something needs to be done about that. Darrell McGraw waited until the election year before he began acting on that.
What do you think are the best ways to effectively spend the office of attorney general’s budgeted money and lawsuit settlement awards?
MORRISEY: This is an area where I significantly disagree with my opponent. I believe that when you have settlement money, you should take that money and return it back to the legislature and the taxpayers. Period. Darrell McGraw has received settlement money over the years that he’s placed into the personal piggy bank of the Attorney General to spend as he sees fit. I disagree with that approach. The fact is, under the West Virginia Constitution there is a Legislative Branch and an Executive Branch, also a Judicial Branch. And, the different branches have different functions. I want to ensure the Attorney General’s Office is not usurping the powers that are traditionally left to the Legislature. And, under article 10, section three, the Legislature should be deciding how monies are going to be disbursed and spent in the state. We have seen for many years that the Attorney General’s Office has taken the settlement money and used the money to engage in self-promotional activities. I’ll give you a couple specific activities. First, this year, in the mortgage settlement there’s approximately $6.1 million of discretionary dollars that the office of the attorney general gets to spend as he sees fit with certain basic parameters related to consumer education. Is it any coincidence that the election year spending of the attorney general has gone up and may be 10 times more than what was spent in previous years? No. That’s because the office of attorney general is diverting portions of those dollars to promote the attorney general’s re-election campaign. That’s wrong and that practice will stop after I’m elected attorney general.
But, there are a number of examples of how the office of attorney general has made errors in recent years because of how they’ve misused the settlement money. In the Purdue Pharma case, McGraw’s office took the money, diverted it away from the Medicaid program, thereby causing a loss of several million dollars in federal matching money to the Medicaid program. This is a program intended to serve the most vulnerable of our population and because Darrell McGraw was so busy focusing on self-promotion, he didn’t have the good legal judgment to ensure those monies were applied to the Medicaid program. Now, the federal government is pursing that money back and that’s just a major error that was made by Darrell McGraw.
Does the attorney general have an obligation to be proactive or reactive to possible legal issues that affect residents, the legislature and the executive branch? Please explain why or why not.
MORRISEY: The attorney general does have the duty to be proactive in educating the public about the nature of the laws and how complex they are. The object is to prevent law breaking from occurring before there are actual violations of law. So, as attorney general, I will put a premium on educating consumers, but also businesses to ensure they have the model compliance plans in place to avoid some of these stumbles that have caused some companies to get into trouble. The fact is, you want to have a proactive voice working with individuals and companies so that people understand the laws and they can ultimately comply with the laws. At the same time, if people are going to commit wrong doing, the office of attorney general will prosecute those wrong-doings very aggressively.
In what ways can the attorney general work with the legislature and executive branch to improve the perception of West Virginia’s legal climate?
MORRISEY: This has to be a top priority for the next attorney general. The fact is the office of attorney general possesses broad powers to improve the business climate in the state. First, the attorney general’s office can be a much more proactive office challenging federal regulations that impairs our way of life here in the state of West Virginia. One positive signal we could send to businesses here in the state is to have an attorney general willing to challenge EPA regulations and other regulations that, really, infringe on our sovereignty.
As attorney general, I will aggressively challenge the EPA whenever they’re wrong, regardless of who’s sitting in the White House. That’s absolutely essential. After we review the types of regulations that we’re going to challenge we’ll also look at the existing regulations that are in place in the state. We’ll try to see which regulations make sense and which ones may need to be modified.
I’ll take a list of recommendations to the Legislature and to the Governor as to what I think should be changed to improve the business climate here in the state. There will also be instances through the office of the attorney general, I will be able to issue legal opinions defining how some of those regulations will operate. All of those collectively could make a dramatic difference in the business and legal climate here in the state of West Virginia. And, that’s one of the major reasons why I’m running. The fact is, West Virginia is last in most of the economic indicators that matter; and, we have to do a much better job improving that. I believe the current incumbent has been a big part of this problem and you would see a dramatic difference in my approach to keep businesses here in the state and to lure businesses into the state verses the incumbent who acts in an arbitrary manner and chases businesses out, sometimes without a specific application to the rule of law.
In what legal area, within the scope of the attorney general’s office, do you think West Virginia residents need the most assistance/representation? Please explain.
MORRISEY: There are three specific areas that I’ve been focusing on in my campaign. First, we have to get the EPA off West Virginia’s back. That has to be priority number one. We have to protect coal and our coal jobs. This attorney general has been inactive on coal issues. That’s absolutely unacceptable from my perspective. After I’m elected attorney general, I’ll sit down with the coal industry, with the unions, with officials from across the state to try to find a way to be more proactive in terms of how we challenge Washington over-reach and better protect our coal industry. It’s awfully difficult as a state to succeed in coal if you have one hand tied behind your back because your attorney general is so inactive. I will not be an inactive attorney general in the area of coal. That’s an important priority.
Second, we need to have a stronger, more competent attorney general in the area of health care. The truth is that under the Darrell McGraw administration there have been some mistakes that have been made that have cost taxpayers dearly — cost them millions of dollars. I want to bring some extra competence in the health care area. I’ve been a lawyer for over 20 years with a specialized background in health care issues. I’ve drafted Medicare and Medicaid laws. I’d like to have the opportunity to apply that background to help the citizens of West Virginia. We’re about to experience a significant budget shortfall due to Medicaid. We need to have an attorney general who has a good grasp of the state’s Medicaid program and who could focus on ways to continue to preserve care for those who need it most, but also control spending because we have to make sure we keep our budgets balanced. That’s the kind of background I’d bring to the attorney general’s position. We could provide good counsel to the governor and to the legislature to ensure that they’re making the right decisions for the state of West Virginia.
The last area where I think the attorney general can play an important role is in the area of ethics reform. We should not tolerate corruption in this state. And, unfortunately what we’ve seen in the last 20 years is that the office of attorney general has not been proactive in addressing ethical abuse. We’ve talked about how settlement money needs to go back to the state legislature and the taxpayers, but the reforms have to be far more sweeping. I believe we should end the use of self-promotional tools of little trinkets with the office holder’s name on it. It’s a small example, but it will send the message to the public that the people who are running their government are not in it for themselves.
We need to put the people first and not focus solely on re-election concerns, which unfortunately my opponent has done. In addition to eliminating the self-promotional practices, we need to reform how the office hires outside counsel. Right now, Darrell McGraw picks the lawyers as he sees fit. We’re going to handle that much differently. After I’m elected attorney general we’re going to institute a competitive bidding system to obtain better quality outside legal counsel. We’ll have lower costs, but we’ll still be able to maintain good quality. We’ll go through a bidding process so there’s no arbitrary way of picking winners and losers of lawyers around the state simply because they contributed to your campaign. So, those are the three areas where I think we could make a big difference and where West Virginia could see much higher quality of legal services provided to them.
Explain the reasoning behind what lawsuits an attorney general would and should choose to pursue in order to assist state residents and better their lives?
MORRISEY: As attorney general you serve as the chief legal officer of the state. That means regardless of the policy that’s coming out of Washington or Charleston, you have to ensure that policy is consistent with the U.S. Constitution, the West Virginia Constitution and federal and state statutes. So, when I look at potential matters where West Virginia may join, whether it’s challenging individuals or businesses that may be violating our consumer protection statute, or where the federal government has over-reached, where it’s acting outside of its Constitutional powers, I will take a close look at the facts present for that particular policy or law, compare that to the Constitutional provisions to ensure that the government is acting within its scope and the actions we’re going to join related to businesses are consistent with the mission of the office of attorney general. But this has to be a very deliberate process. The fact is Darrell McGraw has focused almost exclusively on consumer protection in recent years. I’ve commended the office when they’ve done positive things and I’d like to thank Darrell McGraw for his 32 years of service; however, we have to also make sure you’re acting consistent with all legal and Constitutional principles. That’s the approach I would take and that’s different from how Darrell McGraw has acted during his tenure in office.
Why are you the best candidate to serve as West Virginia’s attorney general?
MORRISEY: There are fundamental differences between my campaign and Darrell McGraw’s. First of all, I entered this race with significant legal experience. I’ve been a practicing lawyer for over 20 years. I’ve served first as a solo practitioner where I had to wait tables to make ends meet. So, I know the value of hard work and West Virginians certainly can appreciate that. I was an associate at a law firm and worked my way up to be a partner at a major law firm. I also served has chief health counsel and deputy staff director of the House Energy and Commerce committee, a committee with broad jurisdiction over health care, environmental matters, consumer protection matters, and energy issues. In that position I was able to gain good insight into many of the challenges that are facing West Virginia. The fact is, when you see the EPA bureaucracy up close, when you see the over-reach of Obamacare, you know that as an attorney general you can bring those experiences to bear to represent the citizens of the state so they’re not burdened by these over-reaching regulations and job-killing policies.
As attorney general, I would have a much different approach to the office than Darrell McGraw. Number one, I would be far more aggressive in challenging the EPA because I believe they’ve really been reeking havoc on our way of life. I would have put the state of West Virginia on the multi-state lawsuit dealing with Obamacare. And, I will make ethics reform a top priority. These are real differences.
Darrell McGraw has been in charge for 20 years and, unfortunately, he’s not focused on the key issues that West Virginians really need help on right now, which are how we keep our coal jobs, how we fight back against over-reaching health care policies that kill job growth and how we advance ethics reform in the state. I have a lot of good experience I’d like to bring to bear to help the citizens of West Virginia. The campaign has been going really well so far. We’ve been getting a great reception particularly in the southern part of the state because people realize that we can’t continue on the same policies that we have in the past.
I’ve come out with a 17 point plan as to how I’m going to handle my first 100 days in office. Within that plan, we act in the area of ethics, we will do a comprehensive review of all the regulations that we should join suits on and/or issue legal opinions related to; but the other thing we’re going to do is a lot of outreach to individuals and the business community to see how things could be done better. The fact is that Darrell McGraw has not maintained good relationships with the business community, with state agencies, with the legislature, and that’s something that we need to change. We need to work in a more collaborative manner in the office of attorney general so we can ensure that people know West Virginia is a good and friendly place to do business in.
The attorney general could make such a dramatic difference in terms of making the state’s business climate more friendly just if people knew they could have conversations with the attorney general, as opposed to what we have now, which is an attorney general who refuses to comment on the most basic things. We need someone who’s willing to engage the public on a regular basis to talk about important issues and that’s what I plan to do after I’m elected attorney general.
No one’s perfect in life. No one has all the answers, but if you have a little dedication, intelligence and passion, you can get a lot done. I’m really optimistic about the future of West Virginia because I think we have such plentiful natural resources and we can really make sure our state shines in the future, but we need better leadership in Charleston out of our attorney general’s office and that’s something I intend to provide.