LEETOWN – The election of local Republican Patrick Morrisey to the office of attorney general represents a significant shift in the history of state elections, as he is keen to point out.
“This is the first time in our state’s history that Jefferson County has elected a state official, and I’m honored by that,” Morrisey said in a recent interview at his campaign offices. “This was the first defeat for an incumbent for the Board of Public Works since, we think, 1896. Incumbents are very difficult to beat in the state of West Virginia.”
Morrisey notes that he will become the first Republican attorney general in the state in 80 years, since Howard Lee left office and was succeeded by Democrat Homer Holt.
Morrisey, who emphasizes his connection to the county and the Eastern Panhandle, said he will become a voice for the concerns of this part of the state in Charleston.
“The fact is that there are many people in the Eastern Panhandle who have felt disenfranchised from state government in Charleston,” he said. “One of the things I plan to do in the weeks and months ahead is to sit down with community leaders from around the state, including here in Jefferson County.”
Morrisey said living at the end of the Eastern Panhandle posed challenges for his election campaign, adding that he put 50,000 miles on his vehicle on his tour of all 55 counties.
“It is far to get to everywhere from the Eastern Panhandle,” he said. “That is one of the things I experienced in my run for attorney general. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love every single county in the state and had a chance to visit every nook and cranny of the state.”
Morrisey said his message resonated with voters statewide due to problems in 20-year incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw’s record.
“We spent a lot of time talking about ethics reform, and this was something, everywhere I went, people realized we had to do better in the office of attorney general.”
Morrisey said his experience with federal health care programs will be a valuable addition.
“I want to make sure that we act with competence in the Medicaid program, so that when settlement money comes in it gets returned and allocated back to the Medicaid program so that we [don’t] lose the federal matching money,” he said.
Morrisey said priorities he will begin to implement include instituting a competitive bidding system for hiring outside counsel for legal work the attorney general’s Office cannot handle. During the campaign, Morrisey criticized McGraw for “cherry picking” law firms, often owned by campaign contributors or “buddies.”
“We’re going to develop new policy for how we hire outside council,” Morrisey said. “We’re going to develop a competitive bidding system. We’re going to look at criteria to make sure that we have high-quality legal services that we procure at reasonable prices.”
Morrisey, who takes over the office in January, said he will commission an audit of the books and practices of the attorney general’s office over the last 20 years.
He said he will take a close look at the personnel currently serving in the office, and hasn’t made any decisions on personnel.
“If you’re doing good work, then there is probably a pretty good chance that you get to keep doing good work,” Morrisey said. “We obviously have a different vision than the incumbent, and we want to make sure that that vision is represented.”
Morrisey said he will offer counsel to the governor and state legislators, hoping to spur them to pass policies that he argues will lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes.
“This is an issue that is near and dear to me because I have been a practicing healthcare lawyer for 20 years,” Morrisey said. “I’m really concerned about the structural deficit facing the Medicaid program. We’re looking at a potentially $3 to $4 trillion deficit in the Medicaid program alone.”
He said one area that has not received enough attention is who qualifies for Medicaid. “What I want to do is make sure that when people receive benefits, they are eligible for those benefits,” he said.
In keeping with another campaign promise, Morrisey said he will challenge Environmental Protection Agency regulations that he believes outstrip the agency’s authority.
“We’re going to take a look at all the regulations that effect the state of West Virginia,” Morrisey said, adding that he hopes to work with the governor’s office in the endeavor. “In areas where we think that an agency has exceeded its authority, that is the kind of thing that we want to pursue. The criterion will always be the overreach of authority.”
Morrisey said he also will create an Office of Federalism and Freedom to pursue challenges to federal regulations that he thinks have overreached agency authority.