Josh Stein, 50, is as well-prepared as anyone could be to take over as North Carolina’s next attorney general. He’s served in that office, running the important consumer protection side of things, and in the General Assembly. Harvard-educated and a member of a family long active in social justice causes, Stein brings to the job an understanding of the needs of the broad cross-section of people he will serve.
The job comes with monumental challenges, first among them dealing with a Republican-run General Assembly that has smacked heads endlessly with departing Attorney General Roy Cooper — who, to the consternation of those Republicans, is taking the governor’s office come January.
The clashes have been unproductive and wasteful. As the state’s lawyer, the attorney general is charged with defending the actions of the General Assembly. But Cooper begged to differ on some issues, notably the disastrous HB2, and on other issues he felt were futile for the state to try to defend. He declined to push the Voter ID law on appeal, for example. But his office did defend the General Assembly’s position on other issues though Cooper personally disagreed.
Republican lawmakers accused Cooper of not doing his job and spent millions on private attorneys, with the public’s money. The state is not doing well in its legal fights. Bad law such as HB2 makes for expensive, futile crusades.
Can Stein expect better treatment by his former colleagues in the General Assembly? Likely not. Stein’s a faithful Democrat, and a progressive by any definition. He’s pledged to protect seniors and others from predatory lenders, which he helped to drive out of North Carolina, and to continue to protect people against deceptive telemarketing. Stein’s also safeguarded the public interests when it comes to utility rates, for example.
The attorney general also is a prosecutor. He has a particular interest in stopping and preventing domestic violence and putting those guilty of it behind bars.
The General Assembly is unlikely to stand in Stein’s way when it comes to the anti-crime, pro-consumer efforts he supports. But will Republican lawmakers pass more laws such as HB2 and voter suppression laws and deregulation laws to protect polluters? If so, they’ll come up against the new attorney general. Stein is not one to back down, and that’s good. Those elected statewide should serve the people first.
We hope that he will develop a good relationship with lawmakers, but that he will not go along with laws that he believes go against his own conscience and the public interest.