Democratic Attorney General candidate Mike Lee on Tuesday was sharply critical of his Republican opponent for her actions in trying to dismiss a lawsuit dealing with opioid addiction filed in state court.
Lee, a Hot Springs native who currently lives in Hot Springs, visited The Commercial to talk about his campaign platform, which not only includes the opioid epidemic but also consumer protection and fighting corruption.
He is opposing current Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is seeking her second term in the November General Election. Kerry Hicks, a Libertarian, is also on the ballot.
Regarding the opioid lawsuit, Lee said that all 75 counties in the state, as well as a number of cities, decided to take a united front against drug manufacturers and distributors, joining together to file a lawsuit against 65 defendants. Jefferson County and the cities of Pine Bluff and White Hall are a part of that lawsuit.
“They wanted the attorney general to be a part of the lawsuit to present a more united front, but when they were ready to file the lawsuit, she surprised them by filing her own lawsuit against three defendants — the same three that other Republican attorneys general had filed suit against and she moved to dismiss the other lawsuit,” Lee said.
He said the State Supreme Court, after filings were completed from both sides, voted to let the lawsuit stand.
“Newsweek magazine looked at what the counties and cities were doing and called it a unique approach that could be a model which other states ought to follow,” Lee said.
In terms of the opioid epidemic itself, Lee said the problem must be addressed at all levels, including the expansion of crisis centers.
“The jails are full now with more addicts than criminals,” he said, adding that he has talked to county judges who say their “budgets are busted” from jail costs.
“People need treatment and if it takes the state helping to pay for that, it’s something we need to look at,” Lee said.
On the subject of consumer protection, Lee said the consumer protection division in Rutledge’s office is not meeting the needs of the state’s residents.
Lee, who worked for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission where he specialized in children’s toy safety, said he has been approached by people across the state who say that they had contacted the AG’s office about a problem and waited two or three weeks, only to find out that nothing had happened.
“It will be a high priority for me,” he said.
Lee’s top priority is improvements and strengthening the state’s Code of Ethics, which he said was first adopted by the Arkansas General Assembly in 2013.
“The ink wasn’t even dry when legislators started shooting holes in it,” Lee said.
Among the changes he would like to see is the elimination of the “mulligan rule,” which allows legislators a chance to correct illegal campaign finance filings and requiring a five-year “cooling off period” between being an elected official and a lobbyist. In addition, he is calling for a total ban on gifts such as free meals and drinks for legislators, and on any trips, in or out of state or international, paid for by any entity.
Told that with current term limits laws many of the legislators who would be asked to vote on what he is proposing would likely become lobbyists themselves and that he would be asking them to “bite the hand that is going to feed them,” Lee said he was asking exactly that.
“As the attorney general, I can’t pass legislation,” he said. “I can only submit legislation, and as a Democratic attorney general who beat a Republican incumbent, I can say the people want this because they voted for me.”
One thing he said he would add to the proposal would be whistle-blower protection to cover those people who are afraid of losing their jobs if they report wrongdoing.
Asked about gun rights, Lee said he believes in all 10 amendments to the Constitution, including the Second Amendment. He said he owns guns and has sons and grandsons who hunt.
On the subject of open carry, Lee said the current law is “confusing and it’s up to the legislature to clean it up.”
He also said he didn’t “think it was a good idea to arm teachers. I’m not sure how that would make schools safer.”