Coal, Drug Addiction Top Issues in Heated Attorney General's Race

Oct 27, 2016

If you’ve turned on a local commercial TV or radio station in the past few weeks, then you probably already know that the race for Attorney General is pretty heated.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, left, and Democratic Delegate Doug Reynolds, right, are running against each other for the office.
Credit West Virginia Attorney General's Office, West Virginia Legislative Services

Republican-incumbent Patrick Morrisey is up for re-election this year after considering and ultimately passing on a bid for governor. Morrisey is taking on Democratic Delegate Doug Reynolds, a Huntington attorney who also owns media and construction companies.

Both have been on the attack in a race that some polls show is too close to call just two weeks away from Election Day.

Fighting for Coal Jobs

Morrisey, a Republican, won the office by a narrow margin in 2012, defeating 20-year incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw. Since, he’s taken strong stances on national issues, including leading the charge in a federal court case against the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is shown Thursday, March 3, 2016, outside the state Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia. Morrisey's coal-dependent state is helping lead a lawsuit against President Barack Obama's new clean-power rules. In February the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the rules until legal challenges are resolved.
Credit John Raby / AP Photo

The CPP would force coal-fired power plants to reduce their carbon emissions, something Morrisey maintains will result in the continued loss of coal jobs in West Virginia.

“West Virginia has bled jobs in part due to these regulations that are coming out of Washington. If we can reverse that, even 30 or 40 percent, that means that people will benefit,” he said.

The case is easily the highest profile of any the office is currently undertaking and will likely be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court before it’s all said and done. Morrisey argues he’s the only candidate who can continue to lead that effort.

He and his Democratic opponent, Doug Reynolds, debated each other on the state Capitol steps earlier this month. In a Charleston Gazette-Mail video of the meeting, Morrisey pointed to Reynolds’s 2007 campaign contribution to Hillary Clinton as proof that the Democrat will not fight regulations on coal.

Reynolds said the state’s legal battle over the Clean Power Plan is about fighting government overreach in the midst of dysfunction in Washington.

“Just because Congress can’t do their job, it doesn’t give the executive branch of government the authority to go out and do all these things,” Reynolds said, “and I think it’s an overreach of the executive branch.”

Reynolds added if he is elected Attorney General, West Virginia will remain a leader in the case under his watch. As for his 2007 Clinton donation, Reynolds said he has not donated to Clinton since Morrisey has been a practicing attorney in the state of West Virginia.

The Substance Abuse Epidemic

Morrisey moved to West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle in  2006, after a failed Congressional bid in New Jersey in 2000.

At the time, he was working as an independent attorney and a lobbyist in Washington. Some of his clients were pharmaceutical companies, and later, Morrisey received political contributions from Cardinal Health, a drug company that shipped more than 241 million prescription pain pills into West Virginia over five years.

Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw sued Cardinal in 2012, saying the company was fueling the state’s substance abuse epidemic. After reports linked Morrisey to the company in 2013, he chose to step aside from the case.

But Reynolds has argued it’s just one example of where his Republican opponent is dropping the ball when it comes to fighting prescription drug companies.

Doug Reynolds on the floor of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

“There’s no one person that can do more to fight substance abuse problem than the attorney general’s office,” the delegate said. “He’s the only person that can go to court and say, hey, you’re doing something wrong.”

“There are way too many pain medications being distributed here and haul them into court and make them pay money if they’ve damaged these communities.”

But Morrisey maintains his office is prosecuting drug companies.

“I think people need to look at the record. We’ve been able to bring in $38 million from drug and drug-related companies,” he said.

A request with the Attorney General’s Office to verify the number of pharmaceutical cases that had been settled under the Morrisey administration and the settlement amounts was not returned.

The current AG also pointed to a partnership with the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of West Virginia that has resulted in four drug arrests and a student education program as other ways he’s fighting the epidemic.

Campaign Dollars Spent

When it comes to dollars, campaign finance reports from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office show Reynolds has spent nearly $1.5 million in the race, a large portion of which is his own money.

Morrisey’s campaign has spent about $325,000 of the $1 million they’ve raised, but has been boosted by the outside spending of a Republican Attorney Generals Association political action committee called “Mountaineers are Always Free PAC.” The group has spent more than $2.5 million in the race, largely on ads attacking Reynolds.

Campaign finance filings for the 2016 cycle.
Credit West Virginia Secretary of State's Office

Morrisey has criticized Reynolds for his personal wealth, saying the candidate hasn’t worked to build his businesses, but inherited them.

“We need someone with that work ethic, with that experience, and who is going to be a fighter and I don’t think you become a fighter when everything is handed to you in your life,” he said.

But Reynolds defends his million-dollar investment in the race, especially in the wake of the outside spending.

“They have spent three times or more of what I’ve spent,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to get your message out and my opinion is that these Super PACs are trying to drown out the message.”

The Other Options

The Mountain and Libertarian parties are also fielding candidates in the Attorney General’s race.

Michael Sharley with the Mountain Party is a graduate of West Virginia University’s College of Law and is a criminal and civil rights attorney in the Morgantown area.

Libertarian Karl Kolenich also went to law school at WVU and practices in Buckhannon.