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Attorney General Roy Cooper has been at odds with Governor Pat McCrory and the legislature over his decision not to defend North Carolina in the state’s HB 2 lawsuits. Do you believe the attorney general should be obligated to defend or prosecute on behalf of the state in cases that he or she personally disagrees with? Why or why not?
My duty as Attorney General derives from the oath of office. The Attorney General shall uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and defend the laws and Constitution of the state of North Carolina, not inconsistent therewith. Accordingly, I will defend state law even though I might personally disagree with the policy position taken by the legislature unless that law is unconstitutional.
In 2014, the General Assembly moved the State Bureau of Investigation out of the governor’s office and into the Department of Public Safety, under the purview of the governor. Should the SBI be returned to the attorney general’s office? Why or why not?
For more than 70 years the SBI was housed within the Department of Justice where it operated effectively as an entity independent of the Governor’s administration. The legislature and the Governor’s decision to move the SBI was opposed by many individuals and organizations, including the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, which saw the value of an independent entity that could investigate allegations of corruption in state government. The decision to move the SBI was political and wrong. That said, now that it has been moved, I would consult widely with law enforcement before seeking to move it back to the Department of Justice to ensure that moving it back would not create excessive disruption.
Several high-profile cases in which a police officer has shot an unarmed or unthreatening African American suspect have put American policing and criminal justice reform at the forefront of the country’s political debate. How would you work to increase the trust of people of color in law enforcement, including the attorney general’s office?
Both law enforcement and the public share the same goal – keeping people and communities safe. It’s imperative that we promote cooperation and reduce conflict so we can achieve safer communities. We can build trust with better training for law enforcement around de-escalation and bias, promoting community policing, having police departments reflect the communities they serve, and using technology, such as body cameras.
Do you support the death penalty? Would you pursue the death penalty if elected, even though the state hasn’t had an execution in a decade? Why or why not?
I support the death penalty because I believe some crimes are so heinous that it is the appropriate punishment. In carrying it out, we must make certain that innocent people are not executed nor permit race to play a role in a capital conviction.
Do you support the legalization, decriminalization, or deprioritization of marijuana? Why or why not? What would be your approach in prosecuting those who are caught using or selling it?
Various law enforcement and community stakeholders across the state have been developing innovative programs for dealing with drug abuse that prioritizes treatment over incarceration. The LEAD program in Fayetteville, the Hope Initiative in Nash County, and Project Lazarus in Wilkes County and western North Carolina are examples. In the state senate, I was the primary sponsor of legislation to restore funding for drug treatment courts to fight against the epidemic of drug abuse by focusing on treatment. As Attorney-General, I will continue to push for programming that focuses on prevention and treatment, while punishing those who unlawfully sell and distribute dangerous drugs.
Do you believe the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC) should be required to be more open and transparent about its investigations? How so?
A central challenge facing government in the 21st century is balancing the need for security, including cybersecurity, and civil liberty, including the right to privacy and freedom of speech. These competing needs are best balanced through public discourse and debate. As it relates to ISAAC, an independent oversight commission could serve to increase its accountability to the public. A commission could help establish policy frameworks to further ISAAC’s work and ensure it best achieves its goals of security and respect of the citizenry.
Identify a principled stance you would willing to take, even if it meant losing votes or even re-election the next time you were up for it.
In the Senate, I stood up and spoke out in opposition of Amendment One and North Carolina’s anti-voter law. In both instances, public polling indicated my position was unpopular but I vigorously opposed both bills because I strongly believed that the laws were not only wrong but unconstitutional.
When Roy Cooper leaves office in January, he will have been the Attorney General for sixteen years. What decision has he made that you most agree with? That you most disagree with? Why?
The core responsibility of the office of Attorney General is to protect the people of North Carolina. I served as Senior Deputy Attorney General for eight years under Attorney General Cooper and we worked hard to protect seniors and consumers by going after scam artists and corporate bad actors. I am most proud of our work to run the payday lending industry charging loan shark interest rates on working families of 400-500% out of the state of North Carolina. As Attorney General, I will continue to focus on public safety and consumer protection while working diligently to respond to new challenges in commerce and the ever-changing needs of the state.
How should the attorney general’s office more effectively pursue, through its environmental division, businesses and industries contributing to air pollution? What sanctions should be in place, if any? Are current penalties strong enough?
The Attorney General plays an important role in protecting the public’s interest in clean air and water. In recent years, the Attorney General has reached settlements to improve the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. The office must continue to hold corporate polluters accountable and work closely with the Department of Environmental Quality on enforcement efforts.
The Center for Public Integrity gave North Carolina a “D” in its state integrity investigation last year, including an “F” in public access to information. What is the role of the attorney general’s office in ensuring that public records laws are being followed? How could you help restore North Carolina’s reputation in this area?
Transparency in public affairs is critical for the people to be able to hold their government and representatives accountable. For this reason, I am fully committed to our state’s open meetings and public records laws. As Attorney General I will work to ensure government agencies understand and abide by the law.
Both candidates have served in the state senate, in solidly liberal or conservative districts. How would your experience as a legislator help you if elected as attorney general? How would you have to change your approach to government as an elected official accountable to the entire state?
As a legislator I was able to effectively work with members of both parties to pass legislation in the interest of the people of North Carolina. I authored legislation and worked with a Republican cosponsor to ban stalking using GPS devices like in our cell phones. I am proud that the legislature passed the bill in bipartisan fashion and the Governor signed it into law. Last session, in a survey, my Republican and Democratic colleagues honored me by ranking me as the most effective Democratic senator. As Attorney General, I will work with Democrats and Republicans alike to protect North Carolina families.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
As Attorney General, I will protect families across North Carolina by cracking down on violent crime, reducing repeat crime through effective prisoner reentry programs, and confronting the opioid epidemic. I will protect seniors and consumers by taking on scammers and corporations that break the law. And I will protect taxpayers by stamping out Medicaid fraud. As Attorney General, I’ll stand up for those who play by the rules and I’ll take on big corporations and politicians when they don’t because no one is above the law.
*There is no Indy2020 Candidate Questionnaire for Josh Stein so we present you with the one he did in 2016.