CHARLESTON – The chairman of West Virginia's Republican Party and others are criticizing the state's Chief Deputy Attorney General for making remarks to a member of the media about this year's election.
On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes was quoted in an article in the Charleston Daily Mail talking about Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey and his campaign against current AG Darrell McGraw.
"He's going to have to respond to why he thinks he should be attorney general when he's never worked in West Virginia," Hughes told the Daily Mail.
In an email to The West Virginia Record, Morrisey did respond to that question.
"Experience is important, and it's true that I haven't spent my whole legal career in the state," he said. "But I think my experience fighting Obamacare, challenging burdensome regulations and advocating ethics reform will provide a terrific contrast to the incumbent's record of supporting Obamacare, wasting taxpayers' monies and providing political patronage for his friends.
"Ultimately, voters will get to decide whether they want more of the same or a fresh start."
In a press release, West Virginia GOP Chairman Mike Stuart said Hughes "sounded more like a campaign spokesman than a high-ranking official of state government."
"Did Fran Hughes provide that interview during working hours?" Stuart asked in his press release. "Was she sitting in a state office or using a state phone? Is Darrell McGraw planning on using taxpayer resources to run his re-election campaign?
"Fran Hughes is paid to work for the people of West Virginia, not to be a campaign spokesman for McGraw. We need to know if the Attorney General plans to run his campaign from his taxpayer funded office on his taxpayer funded salary and his taxpayer funded staff."
Morrisey again stressed he plans to take a "fresh look" at how the AG's office operates.
"One of our top areas of focus will be ensuring that taxpayer monies are not used as an extension of the AG's campaign," he said. "Whether this involves taxpayer-funded commercials touting the incumbent or the amount of time government employees spend in a campaign capacity, West Virginians deserve to know what goes on within that office and figure out the best way to clean it up."
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also commented on Hughes' interview with the Daily Mail.
"It's no secret that Darrell McGraw has misused taxpayer funds over the years for his own political gain," Richie Heath said. "Whether it's rewarding his campaign contributing personal injury lawyer friends with lucrative no-bid legal contracts or wasting state settlement funds on trinkets and advertisements promoting his name in election years, the Attorney General continues to set a low bar for the ethics of public officials.
"If Fran Hughes -- who seems to be vociferously promoting the candidacy of McGraw while working as a state official -- wants to be Attorney General Darrell McGraw's campaign manager this year, then she should take a leave of absence from her state employment. To do anything otherwise would be a likely violation of the state ethics act."
Hughes was unavailable for further comment.
McGraw is a lifelong West Virginian who has served on the state Supreme Court before becoming AG in 1992. He currently is serving a record fifth term, and he's seeking his sixth this year.
In contrast, Morrisey has lived in West Virginia since 2006. He lives in Harpers Ferry with his wife and stepdaughter, and he works in Washington at the global law firm of King & Spalding. He grew up in New Jersey, and he lost a bid for a Congressional seat there in 2000.
"Pick a state, maybe somewhere it will work," Hughes told the Daily Mail.
Morrisey is a health care lawyer and is against the idea of President Obama's health care plan dubbed Obamacare. Last year, he assisted 26 states in successful litigation efforts to challenge the constitutionality of the law in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court is now reviewing that ruling.
Morrisey already has stressed "strong disagreement" with McGraw on overturning Obamacare.
"McGraw refused to join the 26-state legal challenge to Obamacare and stood by as the Administration saddled West Virginians with new financial burdens, rising health care costs, and unconstitutional mandates," Morrisey said in a press release. "My position on Obamacare is clear: let's repeal it and start over."
In the Daily Mail article, Hughes said her office would have to be asked by a client – a state agency or the governor, for example – to pursue such a lawsuit. Hughes also told the Daily Mail she thinks the majority of people see "provisions that benefited West Virginians, particularly coal miners" in the health care reform bill.
"No matter how much lipstick he tries to put on this pig, McGraw's inability to join the other Attorneys General in the lawsuit over ObamaCare represents a huge failure on his part," Morrisey said in an email. "Overall, this is a bad law that harms the majority of West Virginians.
"And even if McGraw reasonably believes that he could not pursue this course independent of the state Legislature and the governor, I would ask whether there is any documentation from his office as to whether he even tried to engage them."
Stuart also criticized McGraw's stance on Obamacare.
"Darrell McGraw supports Obama's healthcare takeover and, despite the vast majority of West Virginians opposing the law, McGraw has deftly refused to join the people of West Virginia in the national suits," he said in his release. "If Ms. Hughes is correct that they need consent, we would like to know if they have sought consent. We also want to know if they have discussed this matter with Governor (Earl Ray) Tomblin.
"The only possible conclusion is that the McGraw and Tomblin support Obamacare and it job-killing effects.
Stuart went on to tie the issue to other news of the day.
"The culture of corruption has been and remains alive and well in the office of our Attorney General," he said. "Given the Democrat machine's rampant and repetitive voter fraud in Lincoln County and criminal admissions on the same day as Ms. Hughes' interview, one would think that McGraw's chief deputy would be more sensitive to campaign restrictions regarding campaigning on government time with taxpayer resources."