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Conway faces GOP prosecutor in attorney general race

Oct. 16, 2011 @ 11:00 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jack Conway portrays himself as an activist attorney general, taking on peddlers of child pornography and illegal prescription pills.

Todd P'Pool wants the same job to fight back against what he sees as an activist federal government that's too intrusive.

Their matchup in the Nov. 8 election for the job as Kentucky's chief law enforcement officer presents stark contrasts. The campaign pits Conway, a Democrat and ballot-box regular seeking a second term as attorney general, against an up-and-coming Republican prosecutor from western Kentucky.

Reports filed Wednesday with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance showed Conway has raised far more money than P'Pool, and was outpacing all other non-gubernatorial candidates.

Conway reported raising more than $700,000 since May in a report to registry. P'Pool, reported $485,000 raised.

Conway, backs his case for re-election with statistics. He said his office is responsible for removing 300,000 child porn images from the Internet, increasing Medicaid fraud collections by more than 600 percent and having a role in the state's largest drug bust.

But it's Conway's inaction in the national health care debate that draws some of the harshest criticism from P'Pool.

Conway opted not to have Kentucky join in challenging President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Just more than half the states are part of the challenge that claims Congress overstepped its authority in requiring people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes, beginning in 2014. The case appears headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

P'Pool said he would promptly enlist Kentucky in the legal challenge against the landmark law if elected.

"This is the era of the attorney general," said P'Pool, in his second term as Hopkins County attorney. "If the people of Kentucky want a firewall against federalism, it has to happen in the office of the attorney general. And Jack Conway is on the sideline."

Conway, 42, counters that he wasn't going to reassign staff attorneys from Kentucky-specific matters to deal with a federal issue. He also didn't file legal briefs in support of the law, as some state attorneys general did, he said.

"I was not going to take the limited resources in my office and put them in place on a political stunt that really deals with Washington politics," Conway said.

P'Pool said he would set up a special unit in the attorney general's office to concentrate on challenging federal regulations he sees as burdensome for coal mining, agriculture or other sectors of Kentucky.

Conway said the proposal "sounds nice" but questioned its necessity.

"If lawyers do their jobs and understand the constitution, the current structure of the attorney general's office can handle that," he said.

Conway said he has shown a willingness to take on the federal government in defense of Kentucky interests.

He noted that his office sued the Environmental Protection Agency to stop federal regulators from imposing cap-and-trade standards through regulation after legislation aimed at doing that stalled in Congress. The proposal would set limits on carbon dioxide pollution but allow companies to pollute more by paying for it and buying pollution credits from cleaner companies.

A more recent target has been for-profit colleges. Conway's office has filed lawsuits against a couple of for-profit schools, alleging deceptive claims about job placement successes or practices that misled students into buying overpriced textbooks.

Conway said for-profit colleges would be a focus in a second term, as would his ongoing fights against cybercrimes and prescription pill abuse. He wants to push for changes to the state's prescription monitoring system to enable authorities to track down so-called "pill mills."

Along the same front, P'Pool, 38, said a more vigorous pursuit of physicians who illegally dispense pain pills is overdue.

"We have to start prosecuting doctors who hide behind the prescription pad and who try to profit off the addiction of our citizens," he said.

On a personal matter that flared during the campaign, P'Pool has downplayed a decades-old entry on a police log in which a caller accused him of causing a disturbance. P'Pool described the incident as "a family disagreement" resolved without incident.

Conway's campaign has said the revelations about the police log were "disturbing."

P'Pool has shown an ability to win election in a predominantly Democratic county, a necessary trait for Republicans looking for success in a state where Democrats still hold a voter registration advantage. His campaign has drawn support from other Republicans across the country. The most prominent testimonial came from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at a fundraiser for P'Pool.

During his tenure as county attorney, Hopkins County rose from 90th to the top 10 in child support collections among all 120 counties.

P'Pool is also a strong advocate for faith-based drug rehabilitation.

For Conway, it's his third time on the statewide general election ballot in four years. Long pegged as a rising Democratic star, Conway ran for the U.S. Senate last year but lost to Republican Rand Paul.