Partisan politics still rule in Charleston

Suddenly, Democrats in the West Virginia Legislature seem eager to enforce an ethics code on the state attorney general. Better late than never, some may say after watching former Attorney General Darrell McGraw abuse his office shamelessly for 20 years.

McGraw’s bag of shady tricks seemed bottomless, yet, despite occasionally expressing unhappiness about them, legislators never were able to work up the nerve to do anything.

What changed? Hint: The Legislature is dominated by Democrats. McGraw was a Democrat. His successor, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is a Republican.

Second hint: Morrisey had the nerve to suggest that regular audits of state agencies – and the Legislature – would be a good way to avoid scandals.

Third hint: Ethics laws proposed by legislators would pertain only to Morrisey’s office, not to other agencies.

Though Morrisey has taken effective steps to avoid conflicts of interest in his office, Democrat lawmakers want to enact new rules on how he handles business and how he spends money.

Morrisey himself has questions about whether the proposed legislation would be constitutional. He also points out that in terms of reform, he acted quickly upon taking office.

Two of the biggest outrages perpetrated by McGraw involved “consumer” lawsuits filed by the state. Often, he hired outside attorneys to handle them, without seeking bids. Some of those lawyers made donations to McGraw’s campaigns.

Morrisey has established a new system of hiring outside attorneys, when needed, to eliminate those abuses.

When the state won those lawsuits, McGraw had the habit of keeping millions of dollars in proceeds in his office, sometimes spending the money on politically motivated projects. Morrisey has changed that. Now, after the attorney general’s office keeps enough money to handle expenses, lawsuit proceeds will go to the state general fund.

Clearly, the bill in question is political in nature – an attempt to hobble Morrisey because he is the Republican who defeated McGraw and because he dared to recommend audits of state agencies and the Legislature. McGraw may be gone, but his style of ultra-partisan politics still reigns supreme in Charleston.