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Attorney General Leslie Rutledge revealed during a televised debate Wednesday that her office is investigating former lawmakers as part of an ongoing Medicaid corruption inquiry.

Both of Rutledge's opponents in the debate, Democrat Mike Lee and Libertarian Kerry Hicks, accused the incumbent Republican of not doing enough to prosecute corruption and wrongdoing at the state Capitol, where seven current and former lawmakers have faced criminal charges in recent years, but none filed by Rutledge.

Rutledge then took her opportunity in the opening minutes of the debate to highlight the work of her office's new Public Corruption Unit.

"We are currently investigating former legislators and legislators as part of our Medicaid fraud investigation," Rutledge said. "We will continue to investigate those individuals and hold them accountable."

In August, a deputy attorney general announced during a news conference that Rutledge's office was investigating one or more lawmakers, though at the time Rutledge declined to elaborate on whether those were current or former officeholders.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Rutledge declined to provide further information about the subjects of her office's investigation.

Rutledge declined to say whether any of the lawmakers under investigation by her office had previously been named in public indictments, or whether investigators in her office had interviewed any lawmakers as suspects.

While Rutledge's office has yet to charge any state lawmakers, the attorney general has announced charges against three former employees of Preferred Family Healthcare, one of the organizations at the center of the federal investigation into kickbacks at the state Legislature.

During the debate, Rutledge faced criticism over her office's approach to ethics. Lee, her Democrat challenger, pointed to his own proposal for a package of new ethics laws, including a proposal to increase the maximum fines that can be levied by the state Ethics Commission.

Lee has criticized Rutledge for not introducing a legislative package while in office, something she has said is not in her purview as a member of the executive branch.

"We have a swamp of our own in Arkansas that rivals the swamp in Washington, D.C.," Lee said.

Hicks, the Libertarian candidate, said the attorney general's office "shouldn't have to wait for the FBI to take the lead" on investigations.

Rutledge was also prodded by her opponents to defend her involvement in several lawsuits by other state attorneys general against the federal government, including one suit that seeks to declare the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care law, unconstitutional.

"If Attorney General Rutledge is successful in that ... what that means is a quarter-million Arkansans will lose health insurance, the people of Arkansas will be less secure and less healthy, and the budget will explode," Lee said. "She needs to check first with [Gov.] Asa Hutchinson."

Rutledge countered that she had, in fact, spoken with Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, a fellow Republican, has continued the state's Medicaid expansion program, which uses federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to purchase private insurance for low-income Arkansans. He's also said he would like to see Congress repeal and replace the law.

"We must talk to Congress and make sure that when ... Obamacare is overturned by the [U.S. Supreme Court] because of this lawsuit that I am a part of, that Congress is the one making laws and they are implementing laws that don't overreach," Rutledge said.

Hicks said he did not feel Rutledge was being "effective" by suing the federal government.

Wednesday's debate was filmed by the Arkansas Educational Television Network at the University of Central Arkansas. It was aired Wednesday night. The debate will air again on Oct. 28, and is available to watch online. The election is Nov. 6.

Metro on 10/11/2018

Print Headline: Lawmaker corruption a topic at AG face-off

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  • JMort69
    October 11, 2018 at 6:15 a.m.

    Perhaps if AG Rutledge had spent less time cavorting with big time, greasy lobbyists at swanky resorts, she might have taken better care of business here at home. After all, that is what we pay her for. Rutledge trots out the same old, tired mantras she has used repeatedly to try to appeal to one-issue voters. She assumes that is all of us. Well, Ms. Rutledge, it is not. I am far more concerned at this point with your dereliction of duty regarding the rampant corruption in our legislature than I am gun laws in New York State. The national lawsuits to which she has attached herself belie just how beholden she is to the lobbyists she loves so. The people of Arkansas are not uppermost in her mind, her next political step is her motivation. So, why doesn't she just get off our payroll and run for whatever national office she covets so? She is just another slithery creature in our state's swamp. Time to VOTE HER OUT, VOTE HER OUT!!

  • BoudinMan
    October 11, 2018 at 7:50 a.m.

    "Rutledge trots out the same old, tired mantras... ." JMORT, what else does she have? For that matter, what else does Frenchie have in AR-2 v. Tucker? In a state like AR, they are propped up by the best crutch they could have: the "R" behind their names.

  • skeptic1
    October 11, 2018 at 9:32 a.m.

    The comments above show perfectly that there is nothing the AG can do to please the rabid and out-of-touch left.

  • hah406
    October 11, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.

    So skeptic, are you saying that rooting out corruption among our state politicians and charging them with the according crimes isn't important, but joining frivolous national lawsuits is? I would prefer our STATE AG to police our state.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    October 11, 2018 at 11:15 a.m.

    Skeptic
    Rutledge is not your friend.

  • JMort69
    October 11, 2018 at 2:17 p.m.

    As I have stated many times before Skeptic, I am a staunch Independent. The redundancy of the terms "liberal" "conservative" "left" and "right" are boring. Not all of us see everything through that narrow prism. It is clear that this woman has not been taking care of the business of Arkansas. Rather, she has flaunted herself on the national stage for whatever her next step is. Maybe you want to waste your money on New York laws, but I would prefer someone who is actually working for the people who are paying their salaries, and that sure ain't Rutledge. So, you can save your overused terms that try to fit all of us into some little box you can comprehend. You will never fence independent thinkers in. And, our numbers are growing as hard-liner's numbers diminish. Better run some people we like.

  • NoCrossNoCrown
    October 13, 2018 at 4:03 p.m.

    In Arkansaw, you are only corrupt if you have a (D) beside your name, If you have an (R) they are perfectly willing to overlook just how crooked you and your family members are... Business as usual!!
    All you have to do is call those who know how crooked you really are "Liberals" and all is forgotten and forgiven. If you have a (D), you are blamed for the rest of your natural life and they automatically condemn you into the pit of hell, the one they've created in the narrow confinement of their own mind.

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