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Political Note #321   Sam Patsonk West Virginia Attorney General

2020                            General election

By the skin of his teeth.  By 145 votes.  Out of 173,553.   Sam Petsonk won the Democratic Primary for Attorney General.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle declined to ask for a recount.  Under West Virginia law, he would have to pay for the recount if the recount did not lead to a change in who the winner was.  If he couldn’t pick up 146 votes, he’d have to pay $100,000 or so.

Sam Petsonk won.  He’s a 35 year old lawyer with a wife and young children and with coal miners as clients, with homeless as clients, with children as clients. Jobless coal miners were suing to get wages, pensions, and jobless insurance that they had supposedly earned when they were working.  The homeless were trying to get property back that was destroyed when the City of Charleston destroyed their “tent city.” He sued the state board of education and the state school building authority for failing to fix delapidated school buildings.

Sam Petsonk is running against the incumbent, Patrick Morrisey.  One of these candidates is a ninth generation West Virginian.  The other was born in Brooklyn.  One of these candidates went to Brandeis University and to Washington and Lee Law School.  The other went to Rutgers and Rutgers – Newark Law School. Hint:  The incumbent was born in Brooklyn and went to school in New Jersey.

The incumbent is a product of New York City, New Jersey, and Washington DC.  He was a lobbyist. Pharmaceuticals were among his major clients.  In 2000, he ran for Congress from NJ 07, getting 9% of the vote in the Republican primary.  By 2012, he had morphed into a West Virginia resident and was elected West Virginia’s first Republican Attorney General. He sued the DEA to get information about opioid sales and manufacturers, but settled with the Trump administration which agreed to reconsider its drug quota for the manufacturers of opioids.

The settlement was a win for the drug companies and the distributors on two counts. To the extent the drug quota is responsible for the opioid problem, all the administration was willing to do was to consider changes. More important, the drug companies, have blamed the DEA quota system for the opioid problem to limit any blame that my fall on themselves. A win for the drug companies and a win for Patrick Morrisey who had been a lobbyist for the drug distributors’ organization.  According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, Morrisey’s wife was still a lobbyist in 2016.

Patrick Morrisey has greater ambitions.  In 2018, he ran for the US Senate.  He won the Republican nomination, gaining 34% of the vote.  He lost to Senator Joe Manchin 50-46.  In 2020 he is facing statewide election again.

The Democrats have an interesting slate of candidates for 2020.  Activist Paula Jean Swearengin for the US Senate.  Plaintiff’s attorney Ben Solango for Governor.  And attorney for the underdog Sam Petsonk for Attorney General.

Sam Petsonk is not the kind of guy you would find lobbying for a trade association. Not that he is unfamiliar with politics. His earliest political work was in the offices of US Senator Robert C. Byrd and US Senator Care Goodwin – both of West Virginia.  When Robert C Byrd retired, Sam Petsonk left DC for law school.  In West Virginia as a lawyer, he served as president of the state Environmental Law Association.

Consider Sam Petsonk’s settlement with Mechel Bluestone and Double-Bonus Coal Company after reading about Morrisey’s settlement above.  In Sam Petsonk’s class action the complaint was that neither the United Mine Workers nor Michael Ray, the class representative, had received written notice that employees would be laid off.  Ray claimed workers received oral notice in October and were laid off beginning November 15.  A year later, employees were notified orally they would be laid off indefinitely, but again never received written notice.  Ray and employees further claimed insurance coverage was terminated prematurely.

The settlement was a win for workers.  Not a big win.  Bringing this complaint to a settlement took a year or two and the payoff was $3,000 and change per employee.  Modest as the result was, it is clear that their attorneys were working on behalf of the employees.

There is no bigger issue for Sam Petsonk than health care.  Getting West Virginia out of the lawsuit intended to put an end to the Affordable Care Act which would, he says, jeopardize coverage for pre-existing conditions.   His other main issues in his campaign for Attorney General are taking on the role of an employment attorney on behalf of workers, protecting those who are part of public education, and addressing the opioid crisis.

Help Sam Petsonk.  He entered the post primary season with $80,000.  Morrisey, with no primary opponent, had $600,000.  Do what you can.  We need Attorneys Generals all around the country who represent the people.

2020 Attorney General Races

Democratic incumbents

North Carolina          Incumbent Josh Stein v. County District Attorney Jim O’Neill

Oregon                       Incumbent Ellen Rosenblum v. Activist Michael Cross

Pennsylvania            Incumbent Josh Shapiro v Trial Lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh

Vermont                     Incumbent TJ Donovan v. former Democrat H. Brooke Paige

Washington               Incumbent Bob Ferguson v. Former Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and Business Developer Matt Larkin

Democratic challengers

Indiana                       Former Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel v former Member of Congress Todd Rokita for an Open Republican seat

Missouri                     Former Assistant US Attorney Rich Finneran v. Incumbent Eric Schmitt

Utah                            Former prosecutor and current defense attorney Greg Skorda v Incumbent Sean Reyes

West Virginia            Labor Lawyer Sam Petsonk v Incumbent Patrick Morrisey