BECKLEY – A southern West Virginia attorney says he wants to be the state’s next attorney general to represent all of its citizens.
Sam Petsonk, a Democrat, announced his plans to run for the office currently held by Republican Patrick Morrisey last month. He said he has been encouraged by others to seek the office.
“Like many West Virginians, I believe we need an attorney general with a renewed focus on representing the people of West Virginia rather than being so polarizing and ideological,” Petsonk told The West Virginia Record. “I have spent the past dozen years collaborating with a broad array of West Virginians to reach agreement on common sense approaches to improving life for our people. Many of those people have encouraged me to seek this office.
“West Virginia deserves an attorney general who firmly enforces our laws to protect our people and defend our liberties. We deserve a leader who protects the hard-earned wages, benefits, homes, land, and basic rights of all West Virginians. An innovator for new business opportunities. An advocate to keep us all safe from fraud, corruption, and abusive practices.”
Petsonk’s platform include advocating for coal miners, protecting retirement benefits and supporting ways to help small businesses.
“I'm running for Attorney General to jumpstart our economy by boosting new infrastructure projects and by giving our healthcare and service sectors a shot in the arm by protecting the hard-earned wages, benefits, homes, land, and basic rights of all West Virginians,” Petsonk said. “I will protect fair competition for our small businesses by keeping us safe from fraud, corruption, abusive business practices, and unfair anti-competitive practices. Our businesses suffer when larger companies take advantage of their market strength to jilt their suppliers on critical payments.
“Our current Attorney General's office has gotten away from those fundamental roles of protecting everyday people and ensuring fair business competition in our state. I want to return the office to its rightful focus on practical steps to strengthen our economy and protect our people.”
Petsonk’s says he has dedicated his legal career to ensuring better wages, working conditions, and retirement benefits for coal miners and all workers. He says he has recovered millions of dollars in judgments against some of the most powerful companies in the state.
The Morgantown native currently focuses on labor law, workplace safety, black lung care and retiree benefits. He also has worked and resided in Fayette, Kanawha and Wyoming counties. He is the past president of the West Virginia Employment Lawyers Association and is the recipient of legal fellowships for consumer protection and workers' rights.
“I've helped coal miners to secure retirement healthcare after a lifetime of hard labor,” Petsonk said. “I’ve represented families and communities to improve our schools. I've used the law to bring people together to find workable solutions for some of our toughest challenges of layoffs, healthcare, addiction and homelessness.”
If elected, Petsonk said being a lifelong resident of the state will help him in the job.
“I bring my values as a native West Virginian and my experience with the complex challenges of cutting through red tape and securing practical outcomes from our administrative state,” he said. “I've learned how to do that by working for Senator Robert C. Byrd for over three years in Washington, D.C., and by founding a nonprofit employment law program that litigates on a wide array of issues to serve the working people of the Mountain State.
“Those qualities will help us to tackle the major issues facing West Virginians today: building a stronger future for our natural resource industries and other prime sectors, expanding broadband access, protecting access to medical care and, of course, pulling ourselves out of the epidemic of addiction.”
Petsonk did praise some of what Morrisey has done as AG since he took office in 2012.
“I join many West Virginians across the political spectrum in support of a merit-based bidding process for awarding public contracts for legal work,” Petsonk said. “And, I appreciate and absolutely share his professed concern for coal miners.
“Unfortunately, he has nothing to show for it and I would do better. Over 100 coal plants have closed or announced their closure since 2016, and Morrisey has been the attorney general since 2012. If he couldn't turn things around yet, then I think that eight years of that approach is enough.”
Petsonk did say he thinks it was a “major mistake” for Morrisey to “go out on a political crusade to undercut Medicaid expansion.”
“We absolutely need to reduce the costs of healthcare,” Petsonk said. “But the Republicans have failed to do that or to have a viable plan. If we lose Medicaid expansion, not only will over 160,000 West Virginians lose Medicaid – which will create a pickle of massive proportions, and Congress cannot act fast enough to solve it – but our core healthcare services will suffer because hospitals, dialysis providers, and countless other providers will lose that immensely valuable secondary payor source that bolsters the bottom line of our healthcare delivery system, which is a major part of our economic backbone in West Virginia.
“So, the Republican approach to the office of attorney general is totally wrong for our economy and our people.”
Petsonk also said Morrisey has made the office partisan.
“Our current attorney general has not done enough to represent everyday consumers and workers, as well as the most vulnerable people in West Virginia,” Petsonk said. “He's turned the office into a nakedly partisan political bully pulpit – and that is something that nobody can really stand to see.”
He said West Virginia needs leaders with values shared by residents.
“We need leaders with the practical know-how and consensus-based attitude to operationalize evidence-based approaches to economic revitalization and growth,” he said. “I was honored to work for Senator Byrd for several years, where I learned up close about how to provide practical leadership with true West Virginia values.
“I think the values of the person in the office are the most important part of what makes a good attorney general. If you want to know my values, listen to my words and look at my record. Look at what I've fought for, who I've represented, and what I believe makes a good public servant.”
Petsonk listed the biggest problems facing the state as healthcare access and affordability, drug addiction and ensuring success with long-term recovery, maintaining high-quality schools and education services, broadband deployment, protecting consumers and students from unfair debt collection and repositioning our energy and natural resource sectors to restore the competitiveness that they have lost over the last decade under Republican leadership.
“On healthcare affordability, I would get West Virginia out of the Republican crusade against Medicaid expansion because that Republican litigation will deprive our most vulnerable citizens of access to care, and will annihilate a critical payor in our healthcare sector,” Petsonk said. “s I would work with our providers and insurers to collaborate on access to care and affordability. And I would ensure representation for consumers who have complaints about the cost or quality of care.
“On addiction and recovery, I would educate and represent addicts who are succeeding with long-term recovery, to ensure through the Human Rights Commission that they have the support that they deserve to access healthcare, be free from stigma, get back into the workforce, and get back with their families.
“On broadband deployment, I would get the attorney general's office more proactively involved with state and local agencies that are working to create the necessary public-private partnerships to solve this central infrastructural challenge of making broadband accessible and affordable. I have also done this in my legal career.
“On education, I will prioritize working with the School Building Authority to ensure robust investment in our schools, which I have also done in my legal career.
“On consumer protection, I would strengthen the attorney general's leadership by providing more education, outreach, and advocacy.”
Regarding coal and energy, Petsonk said candidates for attorney general need to show miners what they have done.
“Where are the dollars and cents going into the pockets of coal miners and their counties through wages and benefits,” he said. “I have brought in millions of dollars in healthcare benefits, black lung benefits, severance pay, wages that were earned but unpaid and more for our coal-mining counties.
“As elected statewide leaders with the ability to influence energy policy, our attorney general and governor need to show that we have new coal-fired generating capacity coming online to replace the massive plant closures that have happened since Morrisey has been in office.”
Petsonk said he’d be ready to work with whoever is governor regarding mining and energy.
“I am quite familiar with Governor (Jim) Justice's mining operations, and I know that he and many others share an interest in seeing replacements for the Sporn Plant, the Kanawha River Plant, the Albright Plant, the Glen Lyn Plant and others that have closed down in the last few years,” Petsonk said. “Morrisey's actions have totally failed to solve that problem. But I am articulating a strategy that can do it. No matter who is governor, if the governor and I are able to deliver on those important goals of securing new energy demand through new plants, it will be a good thing for our state.
“Morrisey hasn't delivered on these energy goals because he either doesn't want – or doesn't know how – to coordinate smartly with our electric utilities to build the cleaner coal- and gas-fired power plants of the future.”
Petsonk said he can do that.
“I have the knowledge and relationships both in-state and nationally to help protect coal's place in the power sector by co-firing coal with other fuels at existing plants and by building the integrated gasification and combined cycle plants that are necessary in order to drive demand for cleaner coal. We need new leaders like me who have the ability and the passion to undertake the hard work of getting us there,” he said. “And for the miners who have lost their jobs in recent years, I am the only candidate who has a record of fighting for healthcare, retirement security, severance pay, and assistance after layoffs. Our people deserve – and indeed, we can afford – nothing less.”
Petsonk said the state needs an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that balances the economy and the environment while protecting resources.
“In addition to strengthening the future of coal, this also means getting smart on driving up residential real estate values by deploying rooftop solar and by securing the legal mechanisms to achieve power purchase agreements or comparable devices for renewable energy deployment,” he said. “Facilitating the growth of the electric vehicle fleet will drive demand for coal and other sources too, while reducing emissions relative to gas-fired cars – a no-brainer and a major win-win for West Virginia.
“It also means promoting natural gas development and underground storage – a key strategic resource for us – while ensuring ironclad environmental and contractual protections for surface owners. So, I would work hand in hand with all the stakeholders to get things right for the future of coal, energy, and other growth opportunities across our economy.”
Petsonk earned his law degree from Washington & Lee University and his college degree at Brandeis University. He lives in Fayette County with his wife Stephanie and their son Teddy. His campaign website is www.samforwv.com.