Balancing act: Robinson, Stein offer competing visions of the future in North Carolina

Balancing act: Robinson, Stein offer competing visions of the future in North Carolina

They couldn’t be more different. But it’s not about race, religion or party affiliation. 

Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, a Republican, present strikingly different views not only on their priorities if elected governor but also on the 30,000-foot view of what North Carolina is and will be. 

For North Carolina to truly exist as its Latin motto implies, not just in appearance but in substance, Stein and Robinson will have to engage in a precarious balancing act — not one of right versus left, but instead one considering myriad complexities that define the state.

It’s about the east and the coast. The Triangle and the tribes. The mountains and the west. It’s about small towns and big corporations. It’s about workers and businesses. It’s about teachers and parents and taxes and services and grappling with the growth that is both a blessing and a curse.

Ultimately, how these individuals with such contrasting personalities and perspectives tackle these shared issues will shape a new era in one of the nation’s most politically nuanced states, precisely when it stands at the crossroads of transformation.

Stein finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. Polls — if they can be believed — show him with a lead over Robinson, but if Stein wins, his agenda will be largely reliant on the composition of the General Assembly. Currently, Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority. If they maintain it, Stein’s only political currency will be advocacy and admonition. 

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Josh Stein has served two terms as North Carolina’s attorney general. Jeffrey Delannoy photo

“What I tell folks is, we’ve got to make sure that we focus on electing a Democratic governor and breaking the supermajority so that we have balance in state government because right now, we don’t have balance,” Stein told The Smoky Mountain News during an interview in Canton on April 16.

Robinson, on the other hand, would enjoy what most believe will still be a solid Republican majority in both chambers after November’s election, hastening the implementation of his goals.

Whoever wins, how those dynamics play out in Raleigh next year will likely be the sole determinant of what the state looks like, policy-wise, for the better part of the next decade. In the rural west, where poverty gazes up at million-dollar mountaintop mansions, local governments look to Raleigh for out-of-reach resources, but there’s always been a sinking feeling that Charlotte and the Triangle — even Asheville — get far more than their fair share. One of the best and most recent examples is the conversion of the old Haywood Hospital to affordable housing for seniors and veterans. Despite logging multiple perfect scores, the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency for years rejected tax credit applications for the project, causing the county to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on continued maintenance as the building sat rotting amid an affordable housing crisis.

Robinson said by phone April 18 that he doesn’t necessarily think the west always winds up with the short end of the stick, and he does have a point; witness Macon County Republican Sen. Kevin Corbin’s recent $62 million haul  for a new Franklin High School, as well as the substantial inflows  secured by the rest of Western North Carolina’s legislative delegation last year. Much of that money, however, isn’t earmarked for growth but rather for rebuilding from a pair of disasters in Haywood County. Deadly flooding cut a half-billion dollar swath of destruction in 2021, and the closing of Pactiv Evergreen’s Canton paper mill left more visceral wounds on the families of a thousand workers in 2023.

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Mark Robinson is nearing the end of his first term as lieutenant governor. Facebook photo

“We all know that each part of the state, whether it be the east, whether it be the west, the middle or the coast, they all face different challenges,” said Robinson. “But I think we have the ability now to start the process in earnest of starting to meet those challenges, make those investments and start that growth.”

Still, it’s hard to ignore the steady stream of press releases from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office touting economic development victories anywhere but the far west — 157 construction services jobs and $40 million in investments in Chatham County, 113 manufacturing jobs and $27 million in Rockingham County, 58 warehouse jobs and $31 million in Catawba County, 400 pharma jobs and $371 million in Wilson County, 680 biopharmaceutical jobs and $1.2 billion in investments in Wake County and most recently 908 green energy jobs and $294 million in Pitt County.

The west’s only recent economic development news came in March, when Cooper announced Duotech Services would create 95 jobs and a $6.5 million investment in Macon County. That’s a welcome expansion of an existing business, but not exactly an addition of a new business. With a number of economic development sites still sitting vacant in Western North Carolina, there remain significant questions over whether western sites are being marketed as aggressively as those elsewhere.

“I do think that we can do a much better job,” Robinson said. “I know in the legislature, we talk a lot about ‘megasites,’ which are 1,000 acres or more. The legislature did make provisions for what’s called ‘selectsites.’ I believe those selectsites, which are sites of less than 1,000 acres, are going to be very beneficial to the western part of the state.” 

The megasites are all in the eastern and southeastern part of the state, although some of that has to do with topography. Selectsites are smaller but still suitable for major manufacturing. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina is currently reviewing RFPs for selectsites and is expected to make recommendations in May, but the program is likely worthless to the far west. The 50-acre minimum requirement eliminates nearly all established sites west of Asheville, and the need for “an established price and terms for the sale or lease of the property” eliminates the former paper mill site in Canton, which is still owned by Pactiv — and they’re not talking.

Despite the best of intentions, the state’s economic development incentivization programs don’t appear to be working for the west.

“This system is designed to reward the lower-tier counties, the ones that are harder to recruit into, so that they get a higher incentive,” Stein said. “We have to constantly evaluate and make sure that we have the equation right, that we’re properly incentivizing the areas that are harder to reach.” 

Part of that system is the tiered economic distress ranking system used by the North Carolina Department of Commerce to designate which counties get more resources. For 2024, Buncombe and Henderson counties are the only tier-3 (most prosperous) counties in the entire region. Cherokee and Graham counties are tier 1 (most distressed), and everything between them is tier 2. In the past, some have called for the system to be more granular — there are big economic differences between Swain County and Haywood County, both tier 2 — to better reflect the schism between the haves and have nots. Stein reiterated his opinion that the state should “always be constantly rewriting all of our incentive programs, to make sure they are achieving what it is we want them to do.”

Lately, presenting an enticing economic development atmosphere has become something of a two-sided coin.

In 2022 and 2023, CNBC ranked North Carolina the best state in which to do business, citing strong performance in the workforce, the economy, technology and innovation. In 2022, international nonprofit network OxFam ranked North Carolina as the worst state in which to work, citing wage policy, worker protection and right to organize.

Stein feels the Republican supermajority hasn’t been focused on working families and calls for an increase in the minimum wage, as well as a tax cut that appears similar to the Pandemic-era expanded tax credit that reverted to the pre-expansion $2,000 in 2022. He says his signature “working families tax cut” plan would be worth about $500 per child.

“We have to be focused on making sure that people are doing well — that we’re building the economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” he said. “Because the people at the top are already doing well and we have to make sure the economy works for everybody.”

Robinson, who has blue-collar credentials, presents a bottom-up solution to contrast Stein’s top-down approach to economic justice and some sense of symmetry for the workers who actually produce the wealth.

“We are putting a real emphasis right now in places like our community colleges and our high schools, on real workforce development, not just guiding people towards trying to find a ‘job,’ but actually getting our young people and our adults focused on building careers,” Robinson said. “I really want to start getting folks to be focused on building a great career and having a great skill that will allow you to build a career. I think that will change a lot of those perceptions, and quite frankly, a lot of statistics that we may see.”

Some of the most disturbing statistics, for working families at least, come out of the regional and local housing markets, making economic development even more challenging. Off-record comments made by some in the economic development community suggest the affordable housing crisis doesn’t just affect those who are already here, but those who may move to the region. If workers can’t afford to live where their employer needs them, the jobs won’t come — no matter how inviting the Western North Carolina views and brews may be. Canopy Realtor Association says the average home sales price in Haywood County for February was $425,000, while the U.S. Census bureau says the individual median income as of 2022 was $32,533. A 30-year fixed mortgage of $425,000 at 5% interest with 10% down would cost $33,540 a year. Jackson County’s 2022 individual median income was $27,669, with a February average home price of $391,500. Swain County’s 2022 individual median income was $28,063, with a February average home price of $394,400.

“State government has a role to play in sparking more housing construction,” Stein said, in line with those who believe skyrocketing prices are mostly a supply issue. “What the state can do is create programs to reward local governments that make it easy for more housing to be developed. If a local government creates rules that stimulate the construction of more housing, then we can help pay for some of that cost.”

The National Association of Homebuilders — credible, but with an obvious lean — said in 2021 that development and construction regulations together account for as much as 24% of the cost of a new home. If that’s remotely accurate, Robinson’s approach is also worth exploring further.

“Much of what you see in housing, the rising cost of houses, is due to overburdensome regulation. That cost is then passed on down to the homeowner or to the renters,” he said. “We are definitely going to have to take a look at ways where we can ease restrictions. Quite frankly, we’re going to have to get municipalities to buy in with this as well.”

Any state funding associated with municipal cost-share incentives would come as the General Assembly continues its march toward reducing personal income taxes and eliminating corporate taxes by 2030. Personal income taxes have and will continue to decrease each year, from 7.75% in 2013 to 3.99% in 2026. In his final budget, Cooper last week asked that the corporate rate remain at 2.5% despite scheduled decreases in each of the next five years. Although the cuts are part of the reason North Carolina’s business climate is thriving, some worry  they pave the way toward an unsustainable future and eliminate any equilibrium between manageable taxes and robust public services. But not Robinson.

“The more money we allow the people to keep in their pockets, the more money they will invest in themselves, their families, their businesses. I think revenue will rise instead of fall. There were a lot of naysayers who said revenue would go through the basement,” he said. “It hasn’t.” 

Projections by the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, an independent nonpartisan nonprofit not affiliated with state government, suggest that it eventually will, with a $10 billion decrease in revenues before the end of the decade and $13 billion by fiscal year 2031. There’s no way to write around that hole in a $35 billion budget without, in some cases, drastic cuts to services.

“We’re 49th in the country in what we invest in K-12 [schools] as a share of our state’s economy. A total disgrace. Meanwhile, instead of investing more money in public schools, [Republicans] want to essentially dry up state funding by creating a $13 billion hole if all of their tax cuts go into effect,” Stein said. “That is not sustainable, and it’s not in our long-term interest. We should not be cutting taxes on wealthy people at the same time we starve our public schools, which is the primary way for regular folks to have an opportunity to have a better life for their kids.”

It’s estimated that by 2032, the state will also spend a half a billion dollars of taxpayer money on vouchers so families can choose to send their children to sectarian private schools that discriminate based on religion, and charter schools where only half of teachers need to be licensed. Recently, the General Assembly put $300 million of public money toward these vouchers and is now exploring an additional $300 million, while public school teachers rank 36th in the nation for pay.

“I believe that we can cut our state school budget. I don’t think it needs to be grown,” Robinson said. “I think it needs to be slashed. But when I say slash, I don’t mean redirected from education, I mean redirected to education.”

At the top of that list, Robinson said, is teacher pay, but only after eliminating what he calls unneeded spending.

“Many of the dollars that we spend in education right now are on bureaucrats and much of the money that we spend on unnecessary things should be directly taken from those things and put right into future salaries,” he said. “I tell people all the time, teachers are not paid well, they’re not respected and they’re not protected. If we’re not doing those three basic things for our teachers, we can’t ask much more of them.”

Residents of the far west invariably see their fortunes rise and fall based on statewide trends in governance, but they’re also beset with a number of other local economic development challenges unique to the region, many centering on the hulking husk of a once-proud paper mill that stood at the heart of Canton for more than a century. 

During a March 6, 2023, employee meeting, Pactiv brass told workers out of the blue that within three months, their high-paying union jobs would be gone. They didn’t notify local elected officials and didn’t notify their health insurance carrier, but executives did dump more than $660,000 in stock less than a week before the announcement and then asked the county for a tax break on their 185-acre parcel. They also, according to Cooper and Stein, violated the terms of a 2014 economic development agreement that sent the company $12 million for upgrades by failing to maintain at least 800 jobs through the end of 2024.

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The future of the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in Canton remains uncertain. A Shot Above photo

The mill has stopped producing paper but continues to produce environmental violations; Pactiv has received 22 notices of violation from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality since May 2021 and seven since the mill closed last June, an average of about 1.3 per month.

Local leaders are looking for both accountability and advancement.

“We need to make sure that we use everything at our disposal to hold companies accountable for bad performance that really costs our folks in our communities,” Robinson said. “I was the person who had the rug pulled out from under me in a place called High Point, but fortunately, I was with a company that did everything right. It sounds like this company did everything wrong. Those are the companies that we need to go after full force with whatever we can, to make sure that they pay the penance for what they’ve done.”

A lawsuit by the attorney general over the terms of the grant has yet to be filed, leading some to speculate that the threat of suit is being used as a bargaining chip to wrest control of the site from Pactiv so it can be placed back into productive use. Stein refused to elaborate on that theory, saying simply, “We want to be part of the solution.” One thing, however, is certain — Stein won’t be North Carolina’s attorney general after this election. While he could use his influence as governor to press Pactiv, any forthcoming suit will largely be dependent on which congressman, Republican Dan Bishop or Democrat Jeff Jackson, wins the AG election. Both Bishop and Jackson told The Smoky Mountain News in January that they would continue to hold Pactiv responsible for their obligations if elected.

“Whoever the attorney general is, their job is to represent the state and our interests,” said Stein, who’s served in the role for eight years. “And if a company has a contract with the state and violates that contract and enforcement needs to happen in court, that is the role of the attorney general, and I’m confident that will happen no matter what happens in terms of the election.”

Instead, Stein’s role as governor would likely mirror Cooper’s and build upon the dialogue Stein has already had with Pactiv and local leaders.

“In dealing with Pactiv there have been many, many, many conversations that have been happening with the town, the county, the governor’s office and my office about possible solutions and opportunities for that property,” Stein said. “And what we want to do is be part of that solution. I will not hesitate to hold Pactiv Evergreen accountable for its failure to live up to its promises to the state when it accepted that $12 million, but I also want to be part of the solution, so I’m hoping those conversations bear fruit.”

Robinson presented an aggressive posture on protecting the state and the regional workforce from Pactiv’s actions and inactions, but didn’t issue an outright call for the suit to be filed.

“You know, those things are oftentimes very tricky. I certainly would love to know that everything is being done to investigate that and to see if we could go down that that route. If we can, it certainly would be a great thing if we do,” he said. “But again, this is not something that we should lay back on our laurels on. I think the governor, the attorney general, this should be a top priority for them because I can remember the day when I lost that job that I desperately needed, through no fault of my own, and I can remember the financial turmoil. We have a lot of folks out there that are going through that right now, and I think the governor and the attorney general need to keep that in mind and pursue every remedy necessary. And I can assure you, if I was the governor, I certainly would be.”

Weighing Pactiv’s property rights against the general welfare of the far west is tricky business indeed, but the tenor of those closed-session conversations taking place in Canton, in Raleigh and in Lake Forest, Illinois — Pactiv’s American headquarters — should also be of concern to taxpayers across the state burdened with an aftermath that reaches far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thus far, General Assembly appropriations to plug Canton’s budget holes and to provide for a new municipal wastewater treatment plant have topped $42 million, not counting untold millions more from the state’s unemployment system. If the parcel languishes, those numbers can only go up.

“I want to work with the town, work with the county, and make sure that Canton is well positioned for success over the long term,” Stein said. “That is a huge parcel of land that has incredible potential if it gets redeveloped the right way. I want to be part of helping this community solve that issue for itself.”

Canton isn’t the only Western North Carolina community looking to solve issues for itself; over the past few years, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — a sovereign nation that has developed into a casino-fueled economic development powerhouse — have brushed off assaults on their independence but still face unprecedented challenges to their business model as the result of state legislation.

“The Cherokee are an incredible economic driver in Western North Carolina and have played an incredibly positive role, not only for its tribal members in terms of the quality of the healthcare system and the educational system, but for employing people all across the western part of the state, so I’m grateful to the Cherokee for their leadership,” Stein said.

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The expansion of gambling — both casino and mobile sports betting — remains a controversial issue. File photo

On the state level, the legalization of mobile sports betting earlier this year can’t be good for the tribe, which opened its own sports betting facility in March 2021. Since Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened in 1997, a competitor has opened in King’s Mountain, and there’s talk of more. Stein believes there are “more durable, more sustainable” forms of economic development than casinos, but bringing harmony to tribal interests and those of the state as a whole will be a concern for the state’s next governor either way.

“I think you have to do a cost-benefit analysis whenever you are making a decision like that,” Robinson said. “There was a great call across the state, from folks all over, and not just the folks in the legislature. It was a very hot issue. We certainly don’t want to do anything to damage our Cherokee friends, but at the same time, we have to take into account that competition is a thing that exists in a capitalist society. It’s one of those things where you just have to say, you know, this is all about competition.”

That being said, Cherokee is now competing with other states  that have ended prohibition on medicinal and recreational cannabis and has invested heavily in its own tribal cannabis enterprise, growing and retailing all manner of cannabis products. But last September, Congressman Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) attacked the tribe by threatening to withhold federal funding just prior to 70% of its enrolled members voting to pass the ballot initiatives that made the cannabis sales possible. 

Now, the Cherokee cannabis initiative is reigniting larger questions about the plant’s place in North Carolina. Last year, more bills in the General Assembly proposed taxing and regulating the adult use of medicinal and recreational cannabis, but they’ve gone nowhere despite the nine-figure tax receipts collected by other states.

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Recent action by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have thrust legal cannabis — both recreational and medicinal — back into the spotlight. File photo

“I’m very much open to studying the idea of legal recreational cannabis, because right now, you can go to almost any convenience store and buy delta 8, delta 9, and it’s unregulated,” Stein said. “They can sell to children, it’s potent, nobody has any idea what’s in it, so I want to make sure that kids are protected. But we need to have a stakeholder process where all the voices get heard before that happens.”

Robinson bluntly stated that he is not in favor of recreational cannabis, but that he struggles with the issue of medicinal cannabis, which Stein supports.

“I have a couple of personal friends who found themselves dealing with cancer,” Robinson said. “They both told me that the thing that brought them through it was medical marijuana. I struggle with it because I’m afraid of what it may lead to. I do not like the idea of recreational marijuana, but I’m afraid if we open that door for medical use that is going to lead to recreational. But I can tell you this — many people think I’m a closed-minded person. I am not. I am ready and willing to have that conversation with well-meaning people who want to find a great solution to that issue, and everything will be on the table to take a look at … because this is an issue that is not going to disappear.”

Although Robinson’s top priority is the economy, he likes to say that the economy is supported by five pillars — housing, infrastructure, health care, public education and public safety.

“If you do not have any of those pieces, if any of those pieces are weak,” he said, “your economy is going to be weak.”

Public safety concerns in the west have long focused on illegal drugs. First it was opioids, now it’s deadly fentanyl made with Chinese precursor chemicals first shipped to Mexico , eventually to cross America’s southern border. Stein had worked with former WNC Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) on the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act, which imposed prescribing limits on physicians, but a similar strategy isn’t possible with fentanyl because prescription abuse isn’t the real problem. Stein said he’s called upon the Biden administration to put more pressure on China and Mexico and will attend a roundtable with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a component of the Executive Office of the President, later this month in Morganton. Stein’s also put together a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts and spark new ideas on what can be done, while asking the General Assembly to fund a fentanyl control unit to provide assistance to local district attorneys because cases are time consuming and complicated. Robinson’s two-prong approach involves heavy emphasis on securing the southern border, and on giving law enforcement the tools to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Both candidates support increasing funding to the state’s overworked criminal justice system, adding more judges, more courts and more courtroom time. Both also realize that reducing drug demand through education is critical, and both want to help with a push from western counties — through their legislative delegation of Corbin and representatives Mike Clampitt (R-Swain), Karl Gillespie (R-Macon) and Mark Pless (R-Haywood) — to pool opioid settlement money won by Stein and other state attorneys general in a nationwide class-action suit on a badly-needed inpatient treatment center  for the west. A requested capital allocation in the tens of millions didn’t materialize from the General Assembly last session, leaving the proposed collaborative center dead in the water, for now.

Stein said the settlement is structured so that 85% of the money goes to counties, and 15% goes to the state. He supports using that 15% to fund similar endeavors. Robinson isn’t sure on how it would be funded exactly, but recognizes the need and supports the idea.

“One of the problems when you talk about rehabilitation when it comes to drugs, or another big one, when you talk about mental health, the question is always who is going to pay for it? Lots of these folks are some of the poorest people in our society who don’t have the resources to be able to afford the very treatment they need to save their lives,” he said. “What I think we’re going to have to do is, we’re going to have to talk to private entities and we’re going to have to put our heads together with those folks to bring some solutions.”

Stein and Robinson hold predictable positions on most major issues based on their party affiliations and even see small strips of common ground in places, albeit with different paths leading them there. Robinson’s messaging, though, has been somewhat overshadowed by the very thing that propelled him to prominence prior to 2020 — his mouth. 

That Robinson is outspoken on social issues is an understatement. He’s said rainbow pride flags flying on churches make him “sick.” Transgender people who use public restrooms should be arrested, he said, or defecate “outside.” He thinks straight couples are “superior” to LGBTQ+ partnerships, and that they’re all “maggots.”

“The voters have an incredibly stark choice when it comes to this election in November,” Stein said. “Two competing visions — mine is forward-looking and inclusive. It’s about tapping the potential of every person. Mark Robinson is divisive and hateful. He calls gay people worse than maggots. He mocked school shooting survivors. He wants to defund public schools and ban abortion entirely. He denies the 2020 election results. He denies the climate crisis. He even denies the Holocaust. I am committed to denying him the governorship in North Carolina.”

If that happens, Stein would be the first Jewish governor of North Carolina.

In March, the New York Times went so far as to call Robinson, who would be North Carolina’s first Black governor, an antisemite — a charge he vehemently denies.

“That is a ridiculous assessment. Look, one month after the attack on Israel, one month after that attack, I not only stood up in front of the entire state and stood with Israel, I actually got on an airplane, flew there and stood in Israel with Israeli people,” Robinson said. “My support of the Israeli people is solid, my support of the Jewish faith is solid. It comes from my faith, and for somebody to make those statements, it’s just blatantly false.”

In a state that’s essentially 50-50 politically — Trump won here by just 1.6% in 2020 — rank-and-file Republicans have wondered aloud whether Robinson’s rhetoric would be a drag on the entire ticket, depressing Republican votes in congressional races, the council of state, maybe even on down to state legislators or county commissioners. As far back as Robinson’s Primary Election against State Treasurer Dale Folwell, many Republicans felt that Folwell couldn’t beat Robinson but could beat Stein, while simultaneously feeling like Robinson could beat Folwell but not Stein. After  losing the Primary by more than 45 percentage points, Folwell told a Charlotte television station he has no plans to endorse Robinson. There’s no telling what effect Robinson’s close relationship with indicted former President Donald Trump will have on North Carolina voters sick of hearing from them both.

North Carolina paid a heavy price a few years ago with the so-called HB2 debacle, which required transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with the gender on their birth certificates. Entertainers and corporations rushed to pull out of the state, depriving municipalities and local businesses of more than $3.76 billion in revenue until HB2 was overturned, per the Associated Press. Stein thinks a Robinson victory would have similar consequences.

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North Carolina is expected to be a battleground state during the 2024 Presidential Election. Cory Vaillancourt photo

“No question. How can a man who says that gay people are worse than maggots sit across the table from a CEO of a major corporation who’s gay? How can he sit across the table from somebody who is different, or somebody he disrespects or says awful things about? These companies have incredible opportunities and choices around him,” Stein said. “We want North Carolina to be number one, and we cannot afford the risk that Mark Robinson would present if he were governor.”

Robinson seems to hold that his personal opinions are his own, and ultimately shouldn’t matter in the context of legal protections afforded to people who are different than he is.

“People are going to have myriad opinions about social issues across the spectrum, but here in North Carolina, it doesn’t matter who you are, we’re going to protect your constitutional rights and protect your absolute right to declare yourself whoever you are, however you are, whether that be your religious preference or your sexual preference,” he said. “No law will be passed in this state that will stand in the way of that, and we will protect people’s constitutional rights.”

Stein, meanwhile, may have problems of his own in a state where he’s reasonably popular but President Joe Biden is less so; Stein’s been clear about his relationship with the president, and was just with Biden in Raleigh a month ago to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and the one-year anniversary of North Carolina’s decision to expand Medicaid, but Stein didn’t answer when asked if he’d be inviting the president to campaign with him here in North Carolina. It’s entirely possible that Biden could be a drag on Stein in the same way Robinson could be a drag on down-ballot candidates.

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President Joe Biden’s popularity, or lack thereof, may have an effect on many North Carolina races in November. File photo

The wildcard here remains Roe, the overturning of which in June 2022 may be a poison pill for Republicans; they got what they wanted despite longstanding support for abortion rights among a majority of Americans but lost six anti-abortion ballot initiatives that same year, including in conservative states like Kansas, Kentucky and Montana. Anger over the ruling likely contributed to the so-called 2022 General Election “red wave” washing out well short of Washington and may do the same come November.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Stein said. “As a candidate, my job is to talk to as many North Carolinians as I can and then make my case on what I want to do to fight for people here. At the same time, I want them to understand exactly who Mark Robinson is, and the real risks that his division and hate will create for the future of this state. I’m optimistic in the choice that voters will make.”

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