Years ago, when Josh Stein was cleaning up the floor of his family’s TV room, he came across a handful of vape pods, which are used for smoking e-cigarettes.
He confronted his then-16-year-old son, who claimed they belonged to a friend. Nevertheless, the little devices piqued the interest of Stein, a Democrat who has been North Carolina’s attorney general since 2017. He took e-cigarette maker Juul to court, slamming the company for marketing to minors. Other states soon filed suit.
- “I’m convinced that we were in the lead because I happen to be a dad, who was seeing these things happen in real time,” Stein tells Axios.
What’s happening: Josh Stein announced his bid for governor in January. He says he’s doing so because he wants to take on more “big fights” for North Carolinians.
Driving the news: Stein spoke with Axios before coming to Charlotte last week for an event focused on youth safety and substance abuse.
Why it matters: North Carolina has had a Democrat as governor and a Republican-controlled state house and senate since 2017. Stein’s bid could determine whether Democrats have much say in the direction North Carolina goes in the coming years, as Axios’ Lucille Sherman reported.
- The Republicans now have a veto-proof majority in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Background: In North Carolina, the road to the governor’s mansion sometimes runs through the attorney general’s office. Roy Cooper and Mike Easley both served as state attorney general before being elected governor of North Carolina.
- “I have been fighting for the people of North Carolina as their attorney general, taking on big battles for them and winning — whether it’s opioids, or e-cigarettes or sexual assault kits or child safety, or clean drinking water,” Stein tells Axios.
- “I want to become governor so I can take on other big fights for them and deliver, whether it’s good jobs, affordable health care, safe communities, strong public schools, or their fundamental freedoms.”
Between the lines: Stein enters the race with a record of legal wins in recent years that he says he wants to continue building on.
- North Carolina was the first state to sue Juul in May 2019, alleging the company unlawfully marketed its e-cigarettes to young people. In June 2021, Stein announced a $40 million settlement agreement with the company.
- For years, North Carolina has had a severe backlog of untested sexual assault test kits — around 16,000 when Stein took office. His team has worked to clear the backlog — now 97% of the tests have either been tested or in the process of being tested, per Stein.
- North Carolina is part of a $26 billion opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson and three other drug companies, announced last year, over the companies’ alleged involvement in stoking the nation’s opioid crisis, as Axios’ Nathan Bomey reported. North Carolina’s share is about $1.4 billion.
What he’s saying: “I’m proudest of the life-changing work that my team and I have accomplished in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Opioids are absolutely devastating this country. But we also are at a moment where folks are working together with a dedicated source of revenue to attack this problem,” Stein says.
The other side: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell, both Republicans, also announced they will run for governor.
- Axios has requested interviews with each candidate.
Critics have slammed Stein’s voting record as being too liberal as a state senator before he became attorney general.
- In the past, he’s voted against measures supporting tax cuts, charter schools, voter ID and expanding access to guns.
- A few years ago, liberal group Emancipate NC called out Stein for not doing enough to protect the civil rights of North Carolinians.
A few other issues I discussed with Stein:
On North Carolina’s proposed 12-week abortion ban: “This bill represents a terrible development in terms of the freedom of the people of North Carolina,” Stein said. “I completely respect that people have different views on what they would do in a particular circumstance. But this is a decision that the mother should make (after) talking to her family, her loved one and her doctor. It’s a decision that politicians in Raleigh should not make for her.”
On having Narcan in schools, which is happening elsewhere in the U.S.: “We need Narcan widely distributed in the community, to help people who are struggling with addiction survive an overdose because the one person we know who will never get healthy from drug addiction is the person who’s dead. And schools may be a good place to distribute those. But … we want them in the hands of first responders, and we want them out in community groups.”
On what keeps him up at night: “I’m very worried about the Republicans in the legislature taking vast amounts of power away from the people and giving it to themselves to pursue an extreme agenda.”