By TIM COOK
HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — Saying the goal of his candidacy is “to put the message forward as to why I am the conservative candidate in this race,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey kicked off his campaign Monday for the state’s U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Declaring himself a conservative reform candidate and a staunch supporter of President Trump’s agenda, Morrisey said he would swim against the “strong tide in D.C.” that lulls members of Congress into compromising their values and accepting a political status quo.
“I want to run for the U.S. Senate to continue the really good work our office has done taking on federal overreach from an even strong platform,” he said. “But make no illusions about the difficulty of the task but have faith in ourselves and together we can change our state. We can change our country. We can drain the swamp. And, finally, we can help West Virginia live up to its potential.”
Addressing the financial struggles of West Virginia households, Morrisey talked about a global economy creating “a lot of economic dislocation across West Virginia” and “the state bleeding in population” because of it. He said President Trump’s campaign phrase, “Make a America Great Again,” recognizes how “typical workers are being squeezed out” by a new knowledge economy.
“Many West Virginians are struggling for economic opportunities,” he said. “Yet the elites don’t want to confront that hard truth, and they keep pushing policies to pick winners and losers. And in the process they leave many Americans and West Virginians behind.”
Morrisey is the third Republican to declare a candidacy for the Senate seat.
U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., who was a Democrat until 2013, announced his intention to run for the seat, as has coal miner Bo Copley.
Manchin, a conservative Democrat who is running for re-election, faces challenges from both parties. Environmental activist Paula Swearengin, a Democrat and coal miner’s daughter, has filed to run the Democratic primary against Manchin, a former West Virginia governor and secretary of state serving his second term in the U.S. Senate.
Record as Attorney General
Serving his second four-year term as West Virginia’s attorney general, Morrisey, 49, first ran for the state’s top legal office in 2012 as a conservative reform candidate, defeating five-term Democrat incumbent Darrell McGraw. He won the general election with 51 percent of the votes cast statewide and 62 percent of the votes cast in Jefferson County.
A Shannondale community resident and a former lawyer in Washington, D.C., Morrisey became the first Republican to hold West Virginia’s top legal office since 1933 and the first state attorney general from Jefferson County. He ran for re-election in 2016, winning the general election with 52 percent of the votes cast statewide and 61 percent of the votes cast in Jefferson County.
Morrisey made a campaign issue of limiting a person’s service in the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office to two terms. If Morrisey is elected to the Senate, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (D) will have the duty to appoint someone, either a Republican or Democrat, to serve out what would be the remaining two years in the attorney general’s current term. The term-limit idea was part of his campaign plans to reduce what he called “fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.”
On Monday, Morrisey touted his efforts as state attorney general to defend the jobs of miners and the mining industry from excessive federal regulation. He talked about the need for major regulatory reform and tax reform. He talked about ending funding for Planned Parenthood and reducing abortions.
The former health industry lobbyist talked about the need to repeal Obamacare, but he did not say the health care law should be replaced. Instead, he said Congress should strengthen Medicare while lowering the cost of private health care.
After taking office, he established competitive bidding process for the Office of the Attorney General’s use of private lawyers for litigation, a change his office claims saved the state more than $4 million for taxpayers. He also called on the West Virginia Legislature to undertake audits and performance reviews of all state agencies.
As attorney general, Morrisey has emphasized his worked toward a campaign pledge “to fight federal overreach” in regulatory matters, particularly decisions by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency affecting the coal industry in West Virginia. His office filed more than a dozen lawsuits and amicus briefs against EPA actions in federal courts, including some that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Morrisey has said he didn’t necessarily expect to win many court challenges to stop federal regulations, but vowed to “make it as hard as possible for the administration to finalize invalid rules.” However, claiming to defend West Virginia jobs, he led more than two dozen other state attorneys general in 2014 in filing a lawsuit challenging the agency’s Clean Power Plan to regulate coal-fired power plant emissions under the Clean Air Act to address climate change.
Morrisey called the EPA measure “an out of control, radical attempt to transform the EPA form being an environmental regulator into a central energy planning authority. The Obama administration’s goal was pretty clear: It was intended to be the death knell for coal, putting of thousands upon thousands of people out of work and causing electricity prices to rise.”
“What did we do? Well, we battled it heads on,” he continued “While other politicians talked about all they were doing for coalminers–though they only paid lip service to them–we went to court. We wrote the briefs. We built a massive coalition, including 27 states and 150 parties and we took on the powerful Obama EPA–and we won,” he said.
He said “an unprecedented 5-4 decision” in the U.S. Supreme Court the coalition defeated the Clean Power Plan. “More families are working today because we took on that fight for West Virginia,” he added.
Morrisey also made defending Second Amendment firearm ownership rights a priority as attorney general, filing six opinions in court cases involving other parties litigating such issues while establishing gun owner “reciprocity agreements” between several states to honor West Virginia’s gun carry laws in other states. He also claimed credit for leading opposition to federal immigration programs and regulations on water protection.
As a private attorney in Washington, D.C., before becoming attorney general, Morrisey worked on health care issues, including Medicare and fraud and abuse cases. Previously, he had served as deputy staff director and chief health care counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he helped draft legislation involving Medicare reform and bioterrorism preparedness.
On Monday, Morrisey took credit for establishing the first substance abuse fighting unit I the Office of the Attorney General, cracked down on drug dealers working the U.S. Attorney’s Office and secured a $47 million settlement from prescription drug wholesalers–“the largest in state history.”
“We’ve filed a number of lawsuits up and down the supply pharmaceutical supply chain against manufactures, wholesales and pharmacies,” he said. “We just recently shut down a pain mill in Raleigh County. We’ve been aggressive as you can possibly be and there will be a lot more action in the upcoming months.”
On the treatment side of the drug abuse problem, he also “facilitated the development of a new faith-based treatment option,” he said, “in order to help more people get their heads and their hearts straight–that’s critical.”
“We can’t leave those people behind,” he added.
Anne Dungan, chair of the Republican Executive Committee in Jefferson County, said Morrisey followed through with his pledge as an attorney general candidate to “weed out waste and corruption” from entrenched incumbents in state government in Charleston. As promised, he has transferred money the attorney general’s office won in civil lawsuits back to the legislature–and amount Morrisey tagged at $40 million–for general fund spending, something the previous attorney general didn’t do, she said.
Dungan called Morrisey a reliable GOP candidate to support President Trump’s agenda in a state the current president “won handily.” “If he says he’ll stand up for certain things, that’s what he’ll do,” she said of Morrisey.
Road to West Virginia
Morrisey moved to Jefferson County in 2006, six years before running for attorney general.
Morrisey became involved in Republican Party politics shortly after graduating from college. He worked on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988 and served as a staff member for New Jersey gubernatorial campaign in 1989 and as a press secretary for a U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey in 1990. His first campaign for public office took place in 1992 when he competed for a Seventh District congressional seat in New Jersey, an election where he lost in a GOP primary that had four candidates.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, he grew up in Edison, New Jersey, where he graduated high school in 1985. Four years later he received undergraduate degrees in history and political science from Rutgers College and then earned a law degree three years later from the Rutgers School of Law-Newark.
Morrisey will be traveling across West Virginia today and tomorrow to continue his campaign kickoff rally.
“Today we need to rediscover our country and our state,” he said, to applause from a partisan crowd. “We need to return to ourselves and our core conservative values that made our country great.”
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