Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Roy Cooper
Date of Birth: June 13, 1957
Campaign Web Site: www.roycooper.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney General, state of North Carolina
Years lived in North Carolina: Lifelong resident
1) What do you see as the most important issues facing the Attorney General's office? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you've identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.
As Attorney General I help law enforcement and help keep the people of North Carolina safe. I am strengthening the state's sex offender laws, catching offenders and giving communities more information on where predators live. Our SBI Crime Lab has improved dramatically and we're helping prosecutors lock up violent criminals and drug traffickers and we are exonerating innocent people. We are fighting gang violence with tough laws and significant investment in prevention to keep kids out of gangs in the first place. I am holding the TVA and other polluters accountable for the air pollution they send across the state line. And we are protecting consumers in the state by stopping scams and predatory loans and recovering more than $80 million for consumers.
3) The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
When I became Attorney General we had only 5 DNA experts in the SBI Crime Lab. In rape cases with no suspect, rape kits went untested and there was no recourse for those who had been convicted in years past to apply new DNA technology to evidence. Now we have 42 analysts on DNA, rape cases have been cleared from law enforcement shelves and the Innocence Protection Act gives access to evidence and provides for DNA testing.
4) Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
There are no decisions made by an Attorney General acceptable to all residents of North Carolina. For example, my insistence on a law banning those with severe mental illness from purchasing a gun drew harsh criticism and some threats from certain voters. Another example is the removal of cold medicine containing pseudo ephedrine from store shelves. When those drugs--the key ingredient in the toxic drug meth--went behind pharmacy shelves, many consumers complained. But the number of meth labs has decreased as a result of the preventive action.
5) If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on:
a. The Information Sharing and Analysis Center can and does conduct surveillance on groups, including gangs, but also peaceful demonstrations. Due to the nature of the center's investigations, it is not a transparent agency. What can be done to make ISAC more transparent and accountable to the public?
ISSAC is a multi-agency organization that receives information from the public and law enforcement agencies and investigates potential criminal activity involving acts of terrorism, gangs and illegal drug trafficking. ISSAC has been successful in improving communication and coordination among law enforcement agencies at all levels. An ISSAC agent would be at a peaceful demonstration only if requested by another agency or if an investigation was ongoing. ISSAC is held accountable just like other law enforcement agencies to make sure rights are not violated and no laws are broken. Since I have been Attorney General, we have investigated or prosecuted more than 400 public officials including law enforcement officers, police chiefs and sheriffs.
b. Open records law: The Better Government Association and National Freedom of Information Coalition reviewed each state's public records laws and citizens' recourse available in those statutes. North Carolina received an "F" based on slow response time, appeals, expedited review, and a lack of sanctions for those breaking the open records law. How would you better enforce and monitor the open records and meetings laws? What sanctions should be levied on those who break them?
We offer citizens one of the few recourses outside of court to successfully get public records through our Victims and Citizens Services divisions. Every day citizens can call our office for help, and we serve as an ombudsman between the citizen and the agency denying the records. We have also published a guide on open government with the NC Press Association (http://www.ncpress.com/ncpa/AG-NCPA_booklet.html) and conducted some training seminars around in the state to increase awareness with public employees about the critical need for openness in government. Unfortunately, a bill we backed that would have formalized the Attorney General's role and improved the ability of citizens to be compensated for illegal denial of public access was defeated in the General Assembly this year (http://www.newsobserver.com/politics/story/1144209.html). North Carolina has strong open government laws, and we should not be one of the 38 states that received a failing grade on the national survey. Better response times and appeals would serve us well, whether enacted by statute or adopted voluntarily in practice by public officials.
c. Clean Air Act: The State of North Carolina won a lawsuit against the federal government contending it had overstepped its boundaries in establishing the Clean Air Interstate Rule. While the state opposed the cap-and-trade portion of the rule to avoid pollution hotspots, critics point out that the consequences of the court's decision is dirtier air. How should the Attorney General's office more effectively pursue, through its environmental division, businesses and industries contributing to the state's air pollution? What sanctions should be in place? Are they strong enough, in your opinion?
Challenging the federal government's lax regulations regarding air quality was mandatory when it became clear that hotspots threatened North Carolina's air quality. It is up to federal agencies and Washington to fix the problem, not pit state against state with its policies.
North Carolina's battle began with our aggressive move to rein in our own pollution through the adoption of the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002. Today, we continue to aggressively work to ensure the law works.
Clean Smokestacks requires major reductions of harmful emissions from coal-fired generating facilities in North Carolina. These are real reductions that can not be avoided through a trading program, and we pay for the costs of operating scrubbers in coal-fired plants through our utility bills.
Meanwhile, other states and the federal government lagged behind. We developed a three-step approach to make sure the Act works and keep others from robbing us of our commitment:
First, we monitor federal action to ensure that North Carolina's advances aren't penalized. Second, we identify ways to hold polluters outside North Carolina accountable for the emissions wafting into our state. And third, we pursue remedies under the Clean Air Act to require upwind states to adopt and enforce emission reduction plans.
When EPA proposed CAIR, our analysis showed that despite some of the national benefits in cleaning the air, our air quality was at risk given the likelihood of nearby hotspots under the regional trading program. Also, because of the way CAIR would measure success or failure, North Carolinians would be penalized for cleaning our own air.
We filed comments with the EPA identifying the unfairness of CAIR and demonstrating that it failed to comply with the Clean Air Act. If the fix had been made, North Carolina's air should be cleaner than under the flawed rule. The EPA refused to change CAIR and recently the federal courts agreed that we were right.
When we saw that CAIR would not be implemented, we sought immediate emissions reductions 13 neighboring states. If granted, this would result in almost 80 percent of CAIR-required reductions within three years (rather than CAIR's of the 15-20 years).
The EPA said no. But now that CAIR has been found to violate the Clean Air Act, the EPA can grant our petition requiring reductions in harmful emissions within three years and allowing Congress to adopt additional steps beginning in 2011. Because of the uncertainty, we are asking the federal courts to overturn EPA's decision and implement the reduction plans.
Finally, after our talks with other states to adopt emission reductions failed, we took the TVA to court and are awaiting a decision from the court on this landmark action. A good outcome could result in TVA reducing emissions more quickly than CAIR required.
CAIR was also challenged in court by several utilities. They also prevailed and even without our action it's possible CAIR would have been invalidated.
In addition to our work on air quality, we operate an Environmental Crimes Task Force. In conjunction with EPA, the US Department of Justice, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources through our State Bureau of Investigation. The task force investigates and aids in the prosecution of those who illegally harm our natural resources.
I'm honored to have received endorsements from the state's leading environmental groups, the Conservation Council and Sierra Club, and hope to continue the work to protect our environment.
d. The Attorney General's office has issued subpoenas to gas stations that allegedly price gouged during and after Hurricane Ike. How will it decide what penalties to levy? How can the AG's office strengthen enforcement to discourage this conduct?
Gouging for greed should not be tolerated in North Carolina. We are still in the midst of our price gouging investigation, the first ever under North Carolina's new price gouging law.
Unfortunately, some businesses see a crisis as an opening to make a quick buck. That's why North Carolina's price gouging law prohibits unreasonably excessive price hikes in a time of disaster, state of emergency or abnormal market disruption.
The new law allows us to determine whether prices are unreasonably excessive under the circumstances of an abnormal market disruption.
We have received more than 4,600 reports from people across the state objecting to high gas prices charged by local gas stations in September.
While some prices may have been affected by market forces, some sellers may have charged excessive prices just to line their pockets. Some consumers reported stations charging more than $7 for a gallon of gas.
An impending hurricane is no excuse to rip off consumers who are already paying substantially more for gas than in years past. The law serves as a deterrent to price gouging throughout the supply chain.
Such legal restrictions in the marketplace are appropriate when applied in very narrow circumstances, like when the price of essential goods and services are at stake as a result of a disaster or abnormal market disruption.
6) As a member of the Council of State, you would have input on the issue of the death penalty, including the execution protocol, which was taken up by the Council last year. Do you feel qualified to vote on such issues? If so, how would you vote on the execution protocol and other death penalty matters that may come before the Council? And is the Council of State an appropriate body to deliberate these issues?
Decisions such as the execution protocol would be more appropriately handled by the legislature than the Council of State. The legislature is better equipped to handle important issues like this because of its ability to call experts and deliberate in specialized committees.