CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia attorney general’s race reached a boiling point Wednesday in an impromptu, one-on-one debate at high noon on the state Capitol steps.
Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey offered the debate challenge Tuesday, specifically telling Democrat Doug Reynolds to be there at noon Wednesday. Reynolds showed up without forewarning.
Morrisey called Reynolds deceitful, a liar and a liberal who donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2007.
“What you have here is a person who is pathologically incapable of telling the truth,” said Morrisey, who’s seeking his second term as attorney general.
Reynolds fired back that Morrisey is swayed by the pharmaceutical industry that has employed his wife as a lobbyist in one of the worst states for drug abuse.
“His wife is a lobbyist for Cardinal Health, or was until a few months ago, and during that time he was charged with protecting our state from this horrible epidemic,” Reynolds said.
Both men denied opposing attacks and threw counterpunches for a half-hour in the sun while supporters cheered and jeered.
The race has quickly turned nasty through floods of TV ads. Reynolds has put $1.8 million of his wealth into the race through late September, while Morrisey has been boosted by $4 million in spending from the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Morrisey criticized Reynolds as “a rich man who doesn’t understand the pain of the working man.” He accused Reynolds of supporting legislation trying to limit his ability as attorney general to lead a 27-state coalition and sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency over carbon-emission regulations damaging to coal companies.
The legislation was intended to impose ethics and accountability on the attorney general by his client, the state of West Virginia, Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he’s a fourth-generation native of West Virginia who worked for five years as a prosecutor, has spent 10 years in the Legislature and is a businessman who helped keep 350 jobs at a company that has grown to employ 920.
“I’ve been endorsed by the West Virginia coal miners of this state I think every single election,” Reynolds said. “My brother-in-law still works for large coal. Coal runs deep in my veins and I’m an avid protector of our coal industry.”
Reynolds said Morrisey’s wife and her firm have received $1.5 million from pharmaceutical companies, and that Morrisey has gotten significant campaign contributions from them. His opponent was responsible for protecting West Virginians in lawsuits over the pill mill epidemic while she lobbied for Cardinal Health, Reynolds said.
Morrisey said the drug companies have no influence on his office. He said it has been aggressive in enforcing laws and advancing a drug-abuse policy that will cut use. “We were the first attorney general in the nation to go after Mylan,” he said.
The West Virginia-based company has been criticized for hiking the price of EpiPens.
Denise Morrisey stopped doing work as a lobbyist for Cardinal Health in May, he said.
“Money has no influence on it,” Morrisey said. “We go after companies when there’s evidence of wrongdoing.”