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Morrisey to enact overhaul of AG's office

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's incoming attorney general plans to implement more than a dozen changes during his first 100 days on the job -- everything from a ban on "self-promoting trinkets" to a "full-scale" audit of office spending.

Patrick Morrisey, a Republican who defeated incumbent Darrell McGraw in Tuesday's general election, also promised to move swiftly to release any lawsuit settlement funds being kept by McGraw's office to the state Legislature and taxpayers.

"That's where they belong," Morrisey said in a telephone interview with the Gazette Wednesday. "We're also going to examine past expenditures and current policies to ensure all monies are being spent appropriately."

On Tuesday night, Morrisey captured 51 percent of the vote to McGraw's 49 percent. Morrisey will become West Virginia's first Republican attorney general since 1933. McGraw departs after 20 years in office.

West Virginia political observer Robert Rupp said it will be interesting to see how Morrisey reshapes the attorney general's office. As a Washington, D.C. lawyer, Morrisey represented the pharmaceutical industry -- a group that McGraw has repeatedly battled against.

"The interesting thing about McGraw is he redefined the office by really going after those industries and filing consumer lawsuits," Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said. "In the past, the client for the attorney general had always been the state of West Virginia, state agencies and the governor. He expanded that to say it was also the consumer."

Morrisey said Wednesday he had no immediate plans to shake up the attorney general's consumer protection division. While on the campaign trail, Morrisey said, he often praised that division, which has filed dozens of lawsuits and secured millions of dollars in refunds for West Virginia consumers victimized by unscrupulous businesses.

Morrisey said the consumer protection division would remain strong under his watch.

"Consumer protection will be an important priority for this office," he said. "There will be good, strong consumer protection practices in place."

Morrisey also talked more about his plans to rein in federal government "overreach." He plans to "take on" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal health care reform law.

During the campaign, Morrisey's critics questioned whether the attorney general's office has the power to file lawsuits against the federal government without the support of West Virginia's governor and the state Legislature.

Morrisey believes the office has that authority, but plans to do more research. He also vowed to try to "build consensus" with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state lawmakers before deciding which lawsuits the state should join against the federal government.

"We want to move forward in a collaborative manner," Morrisey said. "We're going to look at each and every case on its own merits. We want to develop consensus on a number of these issues."

Morrisey already has started to put a transition team together. Today, he plans to meet with attorney general's office personnel. He'll also hold a press conference at the state Capitol to outline his "17-point plan" for overhauling the office his first 100 days on the job.

Among the changes Morrisey has in the works:

| Enacting a ban on trinkets stamped with the attorney general's name. "I'm not going to use taxpayer resources for self-promotion," Morrisey said. McGraw's office was criticized for purchasing trinkets and passing them out to West Virginia residents.

| Establishing a competitive bidding process for hiring outside lawyers. During the campaign, Morrisey alleged that McGraw handpicked political supporters for contract jobs with the attorney general's office.

"When the state hires outside counsel, we should know we're receiving high-quality services at reasonable prices," Morrisey said.

| Conducting an audit of office spending and policies. "We will reprioritize resources to areas that need them the most and ensure that all employees are acting in a manner consistent with the highest ethical standards," Morrisey said in a release Wednesday. 

Morrisey also plans to establish an "Office of Federalism and Freedom." The office would challenge federal policies that have a "tenuous nexus to law, or the U.S and West Virginia constitutions," he said.

"We will be reviewing federal job-killing regulations to determine which ones West Virginia should challenge," Morrisey said.

Out-of-state groups bolstered Morrisey's campaign, paying for television ads that attacked McGraw. The Alexandria, Va.-based Center for Individual Freedom, for instance, spent nearly $1.6 million on television ads that criticized McGraw for not joining the unsuccessful court challenge of the federal health-care overhaul. The Virginia organization -- once tied to the tobacco lobby -- funds conservative candidates exclusively. 

Despite his connection to such groups, Morrisey said he would try to work with Democrats and independents in West Virginia.

"I'll work collaboratively with everyone to put West Virginia's interests first," he said.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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