CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has reiterated his stance against debating Patrick Morrisey as well as addressed a recent incident in which he grabbed the camera of a member of Morrisey's campaign staff.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday on MetroNews' "Talkline" radio show with host Hoppy Kercheval, McGraw said he sees no point in debating Morrisey before the Nov. 6 general election.
"It goes like this," McGraw told Kercheval. "Challengers always like to make some kind of issue that will be controversial and in error. They usually can't draw attention to themselves on their own. They have to have a foil to attack against."
McGraw, who has been West Virginia's attorney general since 1992, then told a story about the 1963 Kentucky gubernatorial race when Gov. Happy Chandler was running against Ned Breathitt. His campaign airplane landed near the Kentucky border in Huntington for a campaign stop. A reporter for WSAZ asked Chandler why he wouldn't debate Breathitt.
"'Well, Ned Breathitt can draw his own crowd,'" he said Chandler told the reporter. "My opponent is perfectly welcome to draw his own crowd to whatever points he would like to."
Kercheval then asked McGraw if the decision to debate was a political strategy.
"When we bounce the word political around ... For, well, 2,500 years, people have talked about what's political and what's not political," McGraw said. "Political depends on where you stand while you're looking at it.
"I don't know any reason to advance the cause of a man who has shown up in West Virginia whose life's history has been one of opposing the interest of the people and floating information that he thinks is attractive to certain segments of the community in an effort to advance himself to damage - to damage - the people of West Virginia by killing consumer protection."
Morrisey's campaign responded to the debate issue.
"Is McGraw unwilling to debate or simply incapable?" Morrisey campaign manager Scott Will asked in a press release. "If a 32-year officeholder can show such poor judgment as refusing to apologize to a 24-year-old campaign staffer after ripping a camera out of his hand, it makes you wonder about his decision making abilities. Let's put that on display and have a debate."
Will was referring to Sept. 22 incident before the annual Milton Pumpkin Festival Parade that involved McGraw and Morrisey staffer Justin Lafferty from Logan. The video can be found online.
When Kercheval asked McGraw about that incident, McGraw said he felt no need to apologize.
"This whole thing is a sort of a distraction from the main issue of the campaign, which is the consumer protection law," McGraw said Tuesday on "Talkline." "For a thoughtful analysis of what occurred there without getting into 'he said he said they said who said what said' ... a thoughtful analysis of that was advanced by you (Kercheval), not an endorsement of me, but it was advanced by you in a column you did that received publication around the state. (The column can be found here.)
"I think if you read that column you wrote, you would get my reaction to this distraction," McGraw said. "It's not the kind of thing that has a place in a political campaign."
Kercheval also asked McGraw about criticisms of his office regarding the use of outside counsel who donate to his re-election campaign.
"I wouldn't know that there is any conflict of interest in recognizing that your friends and associates are really high-quality professional people," McGraw said. "In the work that I do, one of the common complaints one hears is that there are laws and there are consumer protection laws to protect people, but perhaps the governments are not funded to the level that makes enforcement of those laws possible because of the unfair balance between, for example, a big out-of-state corporation and the local state government.
"So we hit upon the notion, and it wasn't original with us. It was developed in other places, and our immediate knowledge of it came from Mississippi. We developed a program which is designed to enforce the law. And as a result of that policy, we have been able to recover $2 billion for the people of the state of West Virginia - all at no cost to the taxpayer because we appoint lawyers as Special Assistant Attorneys General. They take on the case. They agree to finance the case. And cases can be very expensive to finance because the opposition wants to stretch them out. ...
"In the appointment of lawyers, we say to these lawyers, 'You take this case, you finance this case, you enforce this law. And if you succeed, you will be paid whatever amount the court says is a fair and reasonable amount for you to be paid. And your fee will come from the wrongdoer.'
"It is the best example, one of the very best examples in America, of a private-public partnership that involves really high quality people doing high quality work for the benefit of the people of West Virginia."
McGraw also said one of the jobs of the attorney general is to level the playing field in the fields of consumer protection and antitrust issues.
"Antitrust is most commonly referred to as an endeavor to level the playing field," he told Kercheval. "That being that we are making sure that businesses don't take unfair advantage of their position to snuff out competition."
Kercheval asked McGraw if he's opposes the free market system.
"I wouldn't have any suspicion of the free market," McGraw said. "I don't know, really, where such a thing exists. As we're taught all through life and college and so on, we live in what's called a mixed economy. In a mixed economy, there are lots of government infusions into business.
"No, I'm not anti-business. I think that business is an essential part of the American community. It's a part of the exercise of freedom in America. ...
"I think that government really is an expression of the desire of the people. The people are really, as the West Virginia Constitution says, the government. The economy exists as part of the community to enable people to fulfill themselves in whatever their interests and pursuits may be."
But McGraw did say he thinks some try to take advantage of West Virginians, and that it is part of his job to ensure that doesn't happen.
"There are places in the United States where what I'm going to call people who engage in unfair and deceitful practices operate out of, and they are big corporations," McGraw said.
McGraw also dismissed critics who say his re-election campaign is run out of the AG's office because, as Kercheval noted, his campaign finance reports show no staffers on payroll.
"We do not have a number of people with cell phones tracking our opponent, if that's a staff," McGraw replied. "Yes, we have people who are volunteers who are much involved in our campaign. Actually, we have lots of people who are working for us as volunteers in our campaign. I guess one could make the point that you don't have to pay them.
"On the continuing note there, I am the attorney general. I do have a job to do, which I do every day. And In the course of doing that job, we do many things that people who oppose, for example, consumer protection would believe to be disadvantageous to them.
"Of course, many of the things we do are disadvantageous to this opposition that has descended upon us from outside the state in order, I suppose, to legitimize people that we have been involved in challenging who have actually been determined to be criminals. One can make one's own decisions about those issues."