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McGraw, Morrisey trade barbs in West Virginia A.G. race

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- During a frequently contentious meeting with Gazette editors Thursday, Republican attorney general candidate Patrick Morrisey questioned the competency of West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw to hold office, while McGraw dismissed Morrisey as a mouthpiece for corporate interests that want to roll back consumer protection efforts in the state.

At one point, Morrisey presented a letter formally requesting a public debate, a letter that McGraw pushed back to him without reading.

"It is not appropriate for the attorney general of West Virginia to debate whether or not we ought to follow the law," McGraw said. "I am really not interested in giving a forum to those who oppose consumer protection in West Virginia."

The Democratic incumbent said Morrisey, who until earlier this year had been a Washington, D.C., lawyer and lobbyist, is backed by corporate interests, including tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, that would prefer the Attorney General's Office be less aggressive on consumer protection measures.

"They lost in court, now they show up in politics," McGraw said. "You can do a lot of things in politics you couldn't do otherwise."

Morrisey countered that McGraw, a five-term attorney general, is not competent to continue to hold the office.

"As this campaign goes on, I've become convinced the judgment of Darrell McGraw is impaired," Morrisey said, citing an incident in Milton when McGraw grabbed a video camera away from a Morrisey campaign "tracker."

Morrisey accused McGraw of electioneering at taxpayer expense, citing appearances of McGraw aides at campaign events, as well as an election-year spike in consumer protection ads featuring McGraw airing on radio stations statewide.

If elected, Morrisey said, he will advocate for a state law prohibiting state officials from appearing in public service ads prior to elections, and said he will set an example for other officeholders.

"You will not see my name on any trinket," he said.

McGraw noted, "Yes, we do a lot of consumer education and, of course, people who oppose consumer protection oppose that education. They don't want people to know what protections they've got."

Morrisey accused McGraw of structuring settlement agreements so that the office retains spending authority over a portion of the funds, which he said are "reserved in a private piggybank."

Morrisey said he would assure that all settlement funds go into the state's General Revenue Fund, to be appropriated by the governor and Legislature.

McGraw countered that courts require that funds be set aside in trusts or for consumer education in "very limited circumstances."

He proceeded to go through much of the $2 billion of settlement funds the Attorney General's Office has obtained for the state during his tenure, reciting a list of legislative appropriations using those funds, including $234.8 million placed in the state's Rainy Day emergency fund, $223.9 appropriated to Health and Human Resources for the Children's Health Insurance Program and for senior citizens' health care, as well as $807 million of tobacco settlement funds, dedicated to the Teachers' Retirement System.

Morrisey, meanwhile, said his background practicing health-care law would be beneficial as the state deals with federal health-care mandates, including the pending issue of whether to expand Medicaid benefits.

Morrisey was admitted to the West Virginia bar shortly before filing to run for attorney general, but said being a relative newcomer to the state will not be a detriment to his election, noting, "West Virginians aren't going to be fooled by these false attacks about where someone was born."

McGraw agreed, noting that his grandfather first set foot in America in Morrisey's home state of New Jersey.

"I do understand people do move to places to make a better life for themselves," he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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