Choices for Atty. General, Lt. Governor

The Observer editorial board


Four men are vying to succeed Attorney General Roy Cooper as North Carolina’s top prosecutor.

In the Republican primary, Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson faces Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill.

Newton is a key ally of Senate leader Phil Berger. The two co-sponsored Senate Bill 2, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing gay weddings if they have a “sincerely held” religious objection. Berger joined him at a recent press conference in which they condemned Charlotte’s new anti-discrimination ordinance.

Newton says Cooper, now a gubernatorial candidate, hasn’t been a reliable legal ally for the General Assembly. He wants to be that reliable ally for his GOP colleagues. But considering how judges have struck down their wrong-headed laws infringing on abortion rights and gay rights, the last thing this state needs is a legal rubber stamp for Berger. We need a strong, independent attorney general.

We instead recommend O’Neill, a sharp, reform-minded candidate with two decades of prosecutorial experience. As Forsyth’s DA, he cracked down on violent crime, but also trimmed county jail expenses by releasing non-violent low-level offenders.

He stood with Cooper in 2013 against the legislature’s politically motivated decision to shift the State Bureau of Investigation out of the attorney general’s office. He says he will push to move it back and will fight for more money for the state’s backlogged crime lab.

In the Democratic primary, veteran Lumberton attorney Marcus Williams faces Sen. Josh Stein, who formerly ran the attorney general’s consumer protection division.

Other than opposing the GOP, Williams doesn’t offer much vision for the office. Stein, by contrast, aims to crack down on violent crime, consumer fraud and corporate polluters. He pursued payday lenders while leading the consumer protection unit. In the Senate, he worked to strengthen DWI and domestic violence safeguards, as well as the state’s DNA database.

Stein is the superior choice.

Lieutenant governor

For a job that has no real authority, the lieutenant governor’s office regularly attracts a strong field of candidates. There’s good reason for that: The position offers a bully pulpit and easy publicity for the ambitious, and the person elected to the office becomes governor if the governor is unable to serve.

In 2016, four Democrats are competing for a chance to unseat Republican Dan Forest, who was elected in 2012. Two candidates – Linda Coleman and Holly Jones – stand out over retired state employee Robert Wilson and Durham businessman Ron Newton.

Coleman won the Democratic primary in 2012 before narrowly losing to Forest. She has served in local government as chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners and was elected three times to the N.C. House. She also was Director of the Office of State Personnel from 2009-12 and has worked with various state departments, including the state community college system. That experience would serve her well as lieutenant governor, who has seats on the state boards of education and community colleges.

Jones is sharp and well-regarded in western North Carolina; she has served long stints on the Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Both Asheville and Buncombe have been targets of Republicans in Raleigh, who’ve redrawn county districts and attempted to wrest control of the city’s water system.

Jones and Coleman each hew close to traditional Democratic positions on issues. Each would use the lieutenant governor’s bully pulpit to talk about education issues, including early childhood education. We give the slight edge to Coleman for her diverse experience and familiarity with the legislature and state government.