CHARLESTON – West Virginia's chief deputy attorney general has responded to criticisms that she made comments about her boss's Republican opponent in this fall's general election.
Last week, the chairman of West Virginia's Republican Party and others said it was wrong for Fran Hughes to make remarks to a member of the media about this year's election.
On Jan. 31, 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.
State Republican Party 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 last week. "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."
On Monday, Hughes responded.
"Patrick Morrisey has been attacking our office and things we've done," Hughes, who said she had been out of the office working last week, told The West Virginia Record. "It is an attack.
"Regardless of whether it's a campaign or not, when Mr. Morrisey begins attacking the office, it's entirely appropriate for the chief deputy to respond."
Last week, Morrisey said his campaign is a stark difference from that of his incumbent opponent.
"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," he said. "Ultimately, voters will get to decide whether they want more of the same or a fresh start."
Morrisey also 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 last week 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 again defended her actions, calling all of these criticisms nothing more than personal attacks.
"He (Morrisey) can't talk about the issues because there are so many facts that he can't deny," she said. "He can't deny the fact that decisions by the Attorney General's office have resulted in a settlement that has helped the state of West Virginia balance its budget. It has put us in a position to pay down the teachers' retirement debt. It has helped give the state a favorable bond rating. That was because of the tobacco money. We helped fund the day report centers.
"We were the first party in the nation to hold Perdue Pharma responsible for illegal activities. We were the first state to hold Capitol One responsible for its actions. We were the only state to hold MasterCard and Visa accountable.
"We have an award-winning track record. You never hear them dispute those facts. It always turns to personal attacks against the attorney general, his staff and myself.
"I'm not out slinging guns, but when someone attacks our office about what we've done or not done, it is entirely appropriate as the chief deputy for me to respond."