Morrisey Strong Against McGraw

Incumbent office holders enjoy advantages in politics. Few enjoy the power West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw possesses – and uses with gusto – to force the public to pick up part of the tab for re-election campaigns:

  • Some lawyers who have contributed to McGraw’s campaigns have been employed as paid outside counsel by his office.
  • Most public officials are required to deposit money they collect as part of their official duties back into local or state treasuries. Not McGraw. For years, legislators have allowed his office to keep millions of dollars it collects in lawsuit settlements.
  • When most agencies in West Virginia want to purchase goods or services, they have to go through formal bid processes to award contracts. Not McGraw. When he wants to hire outside counsel, he decides who he wants and how much to pay them. McGraw is up for re-election this year but is facing stiff opposition. A Harpers Ferry attorney, Patrick Morrisey, is running against him.

Morrisey would love to debate the issues against McGraw – but the incumbent won’t agree to meet his challenger in a public forum. The Intelligencer invited both candidates to debate; Morrisey agreed, in effect telling us to name the time and place and he’d be there. McGraw’s campaign staff hasn’t replied to the invitation, made about two weeks ago.

No wonder. McGraw doesn’t have much ammunition for a debate. He has accused Morrisey of being a lackey of big business, but he has not a shred of proof. Morrisey has made it clear consumer protection work will be a top priority when he is attorney general.

Morrisey has lots he could say about McGraw during a debate, starting with the incumbent’s cozy relationships with some attorneys. They contribute to his election campaigns and he, in turn, hands state business to them – sometimes with enormous payoffs.

Consider just one case in which McGraw employed outside counsel. It involved a consumer protection lawsuit against two credit card companies in 2008. They agreed to a settlement in which West Virginia received $11.6 million. Of that, about half a dozen attorneys shared a $3.9 million payday, with four taking the lion’s share of the money. Of those four, one is from Wheeling, another works in Charleston, the third is from Seattle and the fourth is located in Washington, D.C.

Another issue Morrisey would like to raise in a debate is McGraw’s reluctance to take on President Barack Obama to safeguard West Virginians from initiatives such as “Obamacare,” the new health care law. Even though at least 26 states have challenged the mandate, McGraw has refused to join them.

For years, as many state legislators fumed, millions of dollars McGraw raked in from lawsuit settlements on behalf of the state was retained by his office. There, it is used for expensive programs that promote the attorney general himself.

McGraw has gotten away with it for many years. While he usually loses most counties at election time, the renowned McGraw machine in the southern coalfields delivers majorities for him, allowing him to stay in office.

But this year, that could change. Many of those coalfields voters are furious at Obama’s war on coal – and wondering why McGraw has done nothing to defend them. They may decide Morrisey, who opposes the White House in its attempt to wreck the coal industry and thus, West Virginia’s economy, is a better bet.

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Word in Washington is that U.S. Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., is planning to challenge Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., when he comes up for re-election in two years.

Capito, representing the state’s Second Congressional District, has gained popularity throughout West Virginia, among both Democrats and Republicans. Rockefeller, however, has supported Obama staunchly and thus, is losing friends. It wouldn’t take much for Capito to beat him, despite his enormous personal fortune, in 2014.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at myer@theintelligencer.net.