NC attorney general’s race: Where Jeff Jackson and Dan Bishop stand on the key issues

NC attorney general’s race: Where Jeff Jackson and Dan Bishop stand on the key issues

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

By Dylan Rhoney

July 3, 2024

There are stark differences between Democrat Jeff Jackson and Republican Dan Bishop. The outcome of their race could shape the future of abortion rights and voting rights in North Carolina, and how the state fights the fentanyl crisis.

It was a sweltering summer day, but Jeff Jackson seemed unbothered as he sat down at his kitchen table in Charlotte, ready to discuss his campaign for North Carolina attorney general (AG)—one he views as having almost-existential stakes for the future of the state.

Jackson isn’t just saying that’s the case. He’s campaigning like it, too. The Democratic congressman, military officer, and former prosecutor is crisscrossing the state, driving his used Ford Fusion to communities near and far from his home.

Just three days prior to our conversation, Jackson faced off against his Republican opponent, Congressman Dan Bishop, at a debate in Asheville. The weekend before our conversation, he had a packed schedule with events across Western North Carolina, including stops in Cashiers and Blowing Rock. After our interview, Jackson went to an event in Lincoln County, before returning to Charlotte for a fundraiser in support of state senate candidate Woodson Bradley.

So why run? Why work full-time as a congressman in Washington D.C., and spend your limited free time campaigning for attorney general, spending most of your time away from your family? During these events, throughout his campaign, and during our 30-minute conversation with him, Jackson’s answer to that question has been consistent: he wants to continue to serve the public, and just as importantly, he views Bishop as an extreme threat to the state and the rule of law. 

Our interview with Jackson covered a range of topics that will impact all North Carolinians in the coming years. From abortion rights to safeguarding our elections to addressing the fentanyl crisis, Jackson laid out how he plans to approach the issues, how his positions differ from Bishop’s, and how those different approaches would impact North Carolina.

Abortion rights and reproductive freedom

The US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade two years ago ended nearly 50 years of precedent that declared women have a constitutional right to an abortion. The Court’s decision to overturn Roe returned decisions on abortion rights to the states, allowing governors, legislatures, and courts to determine what reproductive freedom would look like on a state-by-state basis. 

But one other elected, state-level position also became more crucial in the post-Roe landscape: state attorney general. 

The power of state attorneys general in determining reproductive rights isn’t new. In fact, the case that pushed the court to end Roe was led by Mississippi’s attorney general. But since the court’s ruling, state AGs across the country have become even more central in determining whether women have access to abortion and control over their own bodies.

In North Carolina, incumbent AG Josh Stein has been a staunch defender of reproductive rights, fighting to defend access even as the Republican-controlled legislature passed a 12-week ban last year, with limited exceptions for rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities, and broader exceptions to save the life of the mother.

Jackson has vowed to take a similar approach in defense of reproductive freedoms and has a record of supporting abortion rights. When Roe was overturned, Jackson, then a candidate for Congress, said he would vote to codify the right to an abortion into law, if elected.

“I’ll vote to codify Roe and protect the rights they’ve had for 50 years,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

While Jackson won his race in the 2022 elections, Republicans won control of the House and their anti-abortion majority refused to hold a vote on codifying abortion rights. 

Bishop, meanwhile, celebrated the end of Roe

“Today, the Supreme Court scored the most foundational victory for life in decades, ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are unconstitutional,” Bishop said in a statement in June 2022.

Bishop also signed onto a brief asking the US Supreme Court to restrict access to the abortion medication mifepristone, which is now used in more than half of all abortions. During his 2019 run for Congress, Bishop also said he supported an Alabama law that outlawed abortion in cases of rape and incest.

“I think it’s wrong to have an abortion in the case of rape or incest, just as it would be wrong to take the life of a child born to incest,” he said.

Jackson says that if elected as attorney general, Bishop could work with the Republican-dominated legislature and state Supreme Court to further erode reproductive rights in the state.

“I expect the General Assembly to continue to run offense on reproductive freedom the way that they have,” Jackson said. “My opponent has taken, true to form, a very extreme stance on this in the things that he has said, endorsing various extremely widespread abortion bans.”

Jackson laid out one example of how an AG Bishop could cause chaos on abortion rights: In  a scenario where there is a Democratic governor and a legislature unable to override the governor’s veto, an AG Bishop could bypass that governor and legislature and erode abortion rights.

“The nightmare scenario for a lot of people—for the state—that I don’t think everybody fully realizes is what my opponent could do as attorney general is basically lock arms with this very conservative state Supreme Court and create an end run around the General Assembly,” Jackson explained.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has a 5-2 Republican majority, meaning any party that brings forward a lawsuit that seeks to limit abortion rights is likely to find a sympathetic audience. In other words, Jackson argued that Bishop could theoretically file a lawsuit seeking to impose further restrictions on abortion in the state—without the legislature or governor’s involvement—and the conservative court could rule in his favor and ultimately further restrict abortion access. 

Bishop’s opposition to reproductive rights doesn’t end with abortion. As a member of Congress, he was one of 125 Republicans who signed on to the Life At Conception Act, which defined a human as existing from  “…the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” 

This bill did not provide an exception for in vitro fertilization (IVF), the future of which has been called into question following a February decision by the Alabama Supreme Court which determined embryos created through IVF should legally be considered children. Many clinics in the state temporarily paused IVF services because they regularly discard non-viable and extra embryos, a practice that could have led to murder charges under the court ruling. While the Alabama legislature and governor ultimately passed a law granting civil and criminal immunity for IVF providers and receivers, they did not address the merit of the court’s ruling and some far-right groups have made clear they plan to target IVF. 

For Jackson, the issue of IVF is personal.

“My wife and I have two kids from IVF. I think his [Bishop’s] position is all the way outside of the mainstream,” he said.

Jackson has vowed to protect access to IVF and birth control as well, another growing target for the far-right. 

In comparison, electing Bishop, who cosponsored the Life At Conception Act, could mean a very uncertain future for the future of reproductive rights in the state—one that is out of touch with the desire of North Carolina voters.

A recent WRAL poll found that even among registered Republicans, 41% are opposed to a bill saying that life begins at conception.

Tackling the fentanyl crisis

Since 2014, more than 13,000 North Carolinians have died from fentanyl use. In 2021 alone, 4,041 lives were claimed by the drug in the state. Jackson says that tackling this crisis will be his top priority if elected as AG.

“I think day one has to be fentanyl. I’m going to ask the General Assembly to invest in a fentanyl control unit. We’re losing nine people a day in our state,” he told Cardinal & Pine.

When we spoke to him in February, Jackson called for an anti-money laundering bill to help fight fentanyl distribution in local communities. The legislature and Gov. Roy Cooper have since passed exactly the sort of law Jackson endorsed, which he says he will use to disrupt the supply and trafficking sides of the fentanyl crisis..

“It’s about the distribution cells that exist within our state, identifying them, breaking them apart,” Jackson said. “It is going to be very helpful, I think, to have this new tool in making a case and having grounds for investigation and in working your way up the criminal supply chain, both for fentanyl but also human trafficking and with the gun trade.”

Jackson is particularly motivated to address the fentanyl epidemic because of the rate at which young people are falling victim to fentanyl. 

“They don’t even know that they’re taking fentanyl. They think they’re taking something else. So they have no tolerance. So their threshold for ODing is much lower. Being able to have that conversation directly [matters],” he said.

A recent North Carolina Medical Examiner’s report found that among 75 autopsies of fentanyl victims, over half thought they were taking xanax or oxycodone.

Even children are not immune to getting caught up in this crisis. In 2022, 25 North Carolina children between the age of 13 and 17 died from fentanyl. That same year there were 10 deaths of kids under the age of 5 in the state.

While fentanyl tolerance can depend on a person’s size, as little as two milligrams can be enough to kill someone.

Jackson also believes using social media to communicate the dangers of fentanyl could be effective in reaching people, especially young North Carolinians, to warn them.

“Just being able to use social media and speak directly to young people and say, ‘hey, there’s no such thing as safe experimentation with drugs, whether or not you know it, fentanyl is in all of these drugs,’ which is why such a large percentage of people who are ODing are under the age of 20.”

Jackson pointed to Mecklenburg County’s public awareness campaign as one he believes has been “pretty effective.” 

He also said he would work with counties to promote “the gold standard for treatment, which is medicated assisted treatment.”

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications such as methadone or buprenorphine in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat opioid use disorders. MAT has been found to  be successful in keeping people off of drugs and to increase the chance that a person doesn’t die from drug addiction.

By comparison, at their debate in late June, Bishop argued that measures at the state level would not be able to solve the crisis and instead pivoted to a nationalized political talking point: the border.

“The problem, if you ask a law enforcement officer or DA in North Carolina, is an unsecured border where fentanyl pours over the border,” he argued.

Protecting the right to vote and fighting gerrymandering

There is a long history of voter suppression and gerrymandering in North Carolina.

Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, gerrymandering occurs when state legislatures—which in many states, including North Carolina, are tasked with drawing congressional and state legislative district maps every 10 years— draw district lines in such a way as to provide them with a favorable outcome. 

“The history of gerrymandering in our state is just terrible,” Jackson said. “In our democracy, things work best when voters have as much power as possible. Gerrymandering is simply about transferring power from the voters to the politicians. I would be completely opposed to that.”

In seeking to be a more independent voice, Jackson also highlighted that Democrats were on the wrong side of history on gerrymandering for many years, and missed an opportunity to end it when they were in power.

“And my party had the opportunity to end gerrymandering when they were in power back when I was in high school, and they chose not to because they thought they would never be out of power,” he said.

For Jackson, gerrymandering isn’t just politically, but morally wrong.

“There is no ethical defense for drawing districts in a way that benefits one party over the other. This isn’t ethically complicated, it’s like bank robbery.”

 Jackson has vowed to be a check against partisan gerrymandering and said he would also act as a “shield” to protect North Carolinians’ voting rights from the legislature, which last year passed several voter suppression bills, including  SB 747, which shortens the timeframe that an absentee ballot can arrive at the local board of elections. Prior to SB 747, absentee ballots could arrive up to three days after Election Day, though ballots still had to be submitted prior to the polls closing. Under the new law, however, ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they are mailed before Election Day, are invalid.

While Jackson has vowed to protect voting rights, Bishop tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and pushed Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

“He was a huge proponent of pushing the Big Lie that was completely dishonest. He voted not to certify the last election when he knew better as an attorney. He knew all the courts and all the judges had ruled the other way. But he decided to pander to the folks who stormed the US Capitol. He didn’t have the guts to look them in the eye and tell them that they were wrong,” Jackson said.

He also called out Bishop’s continued rhetoric attacking the US government that continues to this day.

“A few weeks ago, he said ‘a reckoning is coming for [our] gangster government,’ which to me isn’t the way you talk before you become attorney general. It’s the way you talk before you storm the Capitol,” Jackson emphasized.

Bishop also voted against voting rights legislation while in Congress, including the For the People Act, which among other things, would have automatically registered people to vote at age 18 and ended partisan gerrymandering.

A warning for the future

Throughout our conversation, Jackson kept circling back to one of the core arguments in his campaign: Bishop is too extreme for North Carolina. 

“I would love us to get to a point where elections didn’t feel like an existential crisis. We’re just not there yet,” Jackson said. “And the difference between myself and my opponent when it comes to basic rule of law just can’t be exaggerated.”

Jackson pointed to one of Bishop’s recent posts on social media as a glaring example of why he shouldn’t be AG. In the May 6 post to X, Bishop said he would use the office of the AG to target a specific college professor whose actions he disagreed with. 

“There’s no reason to do that. That is gross. I mean of course that’s an abuse of power,” Jackson said. “That’s absurd. And if you’re willing to do that, in what other ways are you willing to abuse your power? Probably more than one.”

Would Bishop actually target that professor if he won? Would he use the power of the state to target political opponents, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized communities? North Carolina could find out if he wins in November.

The danger of a Bishop victory, Jackson warned, cannot be understated.

“Having him in that position—so in Congress, we have 435 [representatives]. The attorney general is one of one,” Jackson said. “Having a political extremist in that position would be an experiment we have never run before as a state, and I think it would be a very dangerous experiment.”

Author

  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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