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Bishop, Jackson clash in attorney general debate

Reps. Dan Bishop and Jeff Jackson are running for N.C. attorney general.
Reps. Dan Bishop and Jeff Jackson are running for N.C. attorney general.

Republican Congressman Dan Bishop and Democratic Congressman Jeff Jackson debated for the first time Friday in Charlotte in their race to become North Carolina’s attorney general.

The race features two of the state’s most high-profile politicians. The debate had plenty of back-and-forth over what the role of the attorney general should be.

During the last eight years, Republicans have accused Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein — who is now running for governor —of not always defending the state in court.

Bishop said the attorney general should defend state laws, even if they don’t personally agree with them. He said Jackson would become an opposition to the GOP-controlled legislature.

“And what Jeff has vowed to do before political audiences across North Carolina is to oppose the legislature on policy issues on which he disagrees with the elected legislature,” Bishop said at the start of the debate, which was broadcast by Spectrum News and held by the N.C. Bar Association.

Bishop said politicizing the office results in what he sees as a breakdown of law and order. He pointed to New York Attorney General Leticia James, who campaigned on investigating and prosecuting Donald Trump.

“(James) vowed in her campaign to use every power at her disposal to pursue and destroy one particularly despised political enemy,” Bishop said. “That is the end of the law in this nation if that is permitted to continue.”

Jackson immediately fired back.

“Speaking of the end of law in this nation, all of that big speech was just given to you by someone who voted against certifying the last election,” Jackson said. “He was a lawyer. He knew better. He decided to pander to the people who stormed the Capitol. So let’s start there.”

Bishop joined most other Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation in voting to not certify President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

It's a state race, but the 2020 presidential race is still front and center. After that election, Bishop tweeted that it was rigged. He defended that comment Friday, saying it was in reference to the pre-election lawsuits by Democratic-aligned groups to do things like extend the deadline for mail ballots.

“I’m prepared to own what I’ve done,” Bishop said. “Jeff has attacked because people rioted at the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Bishop pointed to the comments made by a federal judge before the 2020 election that the nation is “now plagued by a proliferation of pre-election litigation that creates confusion and turmoil.”

Bishop has been in Congress since 2019 representing a conservative district east of Charlotte.

Jackson was first elected to Congress in 2022. His left-leaning district includes Charlotte and part of Gaston County, but it was redrawn by the GOP-controlled state legislature to favor a Republican candidate.

Jackson, who worked as a prosecutor in Gaston County, portrayed himself as a centrist.

“I score among the top 5% most bipartisan members of Congress,“ he said. “My opponent scores in the bottom 5%. And for this Congress, that’s really saying something. You have to try to get there.”

Bishop countered, saying that Jackson “may seem to be moderate, but his record is radically leftist.”

He criticized Jackson for voting in early 2023 against a Republican-led bill to overturn locally made changes to Washington D.C.’s criminal code. The changes would have eliminated some mandatory minimum sentences and came at a time when crime in the district was increasing.

Many Democrats sided with the GOP in overriding the changes.

“Chuck Schumer — his Senate voted to reverse that. Joe Biden signed it, and Jeff Jackson voted with Nancy Pelosi, AOC, and Bernie Sanders,” Bishop said.

While Bishop went after Jackson’s voting record, Jackson went after Bishop’s statements on social media, such as him saying that a “reckoning is coming for our gangster government.”

Jackson also criticized him for other comments that Bishop has made that are critical of the federal government or federal law enforcement.

“That’s a lot of law-and-order talk for someone who said we must smash the FBI into a million pieces,” Jackson said. “That’s who we’re dealing with here.”

Bishop did not address those comments during the debate.

That was the tenor of the debate: Bishop saying Jackson is a soft-on-crime liberal, while Jackson called Bishop an extremist who isn’t fit to be attorney general.

The two candidates were asked about their different votes on banning TikTok, unless the Chinese government sells its stake in the app.

Jackson — who has 2 million TikTok followers — voted for the possible ban. Bishop voted against it.

Bishop said he doesn’t think it’s wise to use TikTok, but said the courts have found that “Americans have a first-amendment right to foreign propaganda.”

He added: “And (Jackson) voted to ban it after using it to his advantage. And that is the polar opposite of commitment to fundamental rights to making your decisions predicated to the law.”

Jackson responded: “I cast that vote knowing I would take a huge political hit for that, but I did it because it was the right thing."

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.