By Lawrence Messina
CHARLESTON — As West Virginia’s incoming attorney general, Republican Patrick Morrisey says he wants a say in how the state operates Medicaid and plans to play a role in whether it follows the recently upheld federal health care law.
Morrisey told reporters and supporters Thursday at a state Capitol press conference that he will also refocus his office’s resources on regulations, vowing to challenge those that he concludes harm West Virginia.
While stressing that he wishes to work alongside Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, Morrisey also said that the attorney general can act independently in some of these areas.
“Depending on the issue involved we could technically go forward on our own, but the preference will be to ensure that the governor is going to join us,” Morrisey said. “We will review all federal regulations that we think have had an effect on the state of West Virginia and we will not be shy about saying what we think about those regulations.”
The 44-year-old Eastern Panhandle lawyer defeated Attorney General Darrell McGraw, a five-term Democrat, in Tuesday’s election by 2.5 percent of the vote. West Virginia last had a Republican attorney general in 1933. Morrisey thanked McGraw for his decades of public service, but vowed to end several of McGraw’s practices that he attacked during their race.
“I’m going to ban the use of trinkets with my name on it,” Morrisey declared to applause. He also said he will keep his name out of any office ads or public service announcements that run within six months before an election.
Morrisey promised to hire outside lawyers only through competitive bids and hand over all court judgments or settlements to the Legislature.
Morrisey previously practiced health care law with a Washington, D.C., firm, and was an aide and lawyer for GOP members of Congress and committees. A foe of the federal health care overhaul, he made it and President Barack Obama — who received less than 36 percent of the West Virginia vote Tuesday — major targets of his campaign.
“I’m going to work hard to try to ensure that those bad parts of Obamacare don’t go into effect,” Morrisey said. He also said he plans to tell Tomblin and his health officials that, “I think West Virginia should be more forceful in pushing back on these pieces of Obamacare.”
Concerning Medicaid, Morrisey said he plans to share his health care background with the governor. Rising health care costs have increased the program’s burden on the annual state budget. Tomblin is also weighing whether to expand its coverage, as called for by the federal health care law but ruled non-mandatory by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“That’s an issue that rests within the governor and the Legislature to decide,” Morrisey said. “But I’d like to be part of that discussion, and plan to be part of that discussion, because I think West Virginia would benefit from someone who’s spent a lot of years focusing on health care issues.”
Morrisey said the office audit will review office staff, spending and resources. He also addressed concerns raised by McGraw supporters that he will roll back enforcement of consumer protection laws, a major focus of the Democrat’s tenure.
“I want to be clear, I don’t come into this position and pre-judge how individuals are performing their jobs,” Morrisey said. “I know that there’s been a lot of good work done by this attorney general’s office, some in the area of consumer protection. So I’m not going to throw the whole baby out with the bath water.”
But Morrisey also said a top priority is “creating a more favorable, a more predictable and a stable business environment.”
Thursday’s audience included several GOP operatives who worked on the campaign of Bill Maloney, the Republican who lost to Tomblin on Tuesday. Also on hand were top officials from the West Virginia Coal Association, which endorsed Tomblin’s re-election. They applauded Morrisey’s pledge to fight federal coal-related regulations.
Morrisey faulted the state for not joining a lawsuit against one such rule, meant to reduce downwind pollution from power plants, and said it hasn’t done enough to fight for permits needed by one of West Virginia’s largest mountaintop removal mines.
“West Virginia needs to be stronger in these areas,” Morrisey said. “Based upon the conversation that I had with Gov. Tomblin’s chief of staff, I think that we can develop a collaborative relationship, and that is my goal. I am not going to be someone who takes pot-shots at leaders of the opposing parties because the fact is we need to work together and we may disagree about a couple of things.”