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National publication: NC’s Josh Stein leading a new wave of state AG’s

Attorney General Josh Stein

The Pew Charitable Trusts publication Stateline featured a rather flattering profile of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein today. In When a State Attorney General Takes On a National Fight, What’s He Gunning For?” reporter Elaine Povich highlights Stein as the most visible in a list of top state lawyers who are staking out high profile positions on raft of issues and combating some of the worst acts of the Trump administration.

After listing several matters — including taking on social media giants, robocalling phone companies, e-cigarette makers, housing discrimination and Trump rollbacks of environmental regulations — in which Stein has taken the lead, the article puts it this way:

Stein, 53, has inserted himself into nearly every high-profile action that state attorneys general have taken since he started the job in North Carolina in 2017.

He is emblematic of a new kind of state attorney general — more aggressive, often bipartisan — rising to prominence nationwide. What used to be a relatively high-profile position within a state’s boundaries has become a springboard for publicity across the country.

As politics on the national level becomes more polarized, and with Congress stymied by attention on a presidential impeachment investigation, attention has increasingly turned to the states, where legislatures are primed to act, governors have some real power and attorneys general are stepping up, particularly on consumer issues where the federal government has largely stepped away.

The article notes that Republican AG’s often opposed Obama administration actions, but that today, Stein is widely recognized as leading a similar charge. It also makes plain that Stein seems a likely candidate at some point for higher office:

No one seems more poised to take advantage than Stein, whose activism stands out, even among his peers. Particularly visible is the way he interacts with Republican AGs as well as members of the GOP in his home state. He is one of only a handful of Democratic AGs who must contend with a Republican-dominated legislature.

Stein has used consumer issues to ingratiate himself with North Carolina voters and the GOP-led legislature. Meanwhile, showing that he can fight Trump-led Republican initiatives has boosted his national Democratic profile.

“It is designed to have positive effects and boost their credentials if they have ambitions for higher office, which it is fairly clear that Stein does,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “He’ll demur, as they usually do, but you might be able to detect it from his eyes.”

Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, a Democrat who now teaches at Harvard Law School, said fraud “doesn’t have a partisan hat” when attorneys general are going after bad actors. But, he said, Stein and other AGs are “not going to get elected or re-elected based on what they do on robocalls.” They may work across party lines on corporate fraud or consumer protections, but when it comes to election time they usually revert to party positions, he said.

Stein has already announced he will seek re-election in 2020. Click here to read the entire profile and here to listen to a recent extended interview Stein did with Policy Watch for our News and Views radio show that ran yesterday.

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