Raleigh, N.C. — State Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, announced Monday he will run for North Carolina attorney general in 2016.
During an interview in front of the federal courthouse in Raleigh on Monday, Newton said his time in the state legislature weighed "significantly" on his decision to run.
"I've been particularly frustrated with the crime lab and the backlog at the crime lab for a long time," Newton said, referring to the state agency's struggles to keep up with evidence analysis referred by police and prosecutors.
Newton, 46, was elected to the Senate in 2010 after defeating five-term Democratic incumbent A.B. Swindell. He chairs the Judiciary I Committee and the Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Appalachian State University and a law degree from Campbell University's Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law. He has practiced law at his firm, Newton and Lee, in Wilson for 16 years.
During his time in office, Newton has established himself as a conservative vanguard. He recently threw strong support behind a bill that would allow magistrates and county employees to opt out of performing same-sex marriages, saying he doesn't believe judges are "smarter than God." The bill passed but was vetoed Thursday by Gov. Pat McCrory.
He also was a prime mover behind a bill that removed oversight of the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General's Office, placing it instead in an independent agency whose director is appointed by the governor.
"I still believe that was the right thing to do ... for improved law enforcement," he said.
Newton is a former chairman of the Wilson County Republican Party and once worked as an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. He and his wife, Hope, have three children and attend First United Methodist Church in Wilson.
Incumbent Attorney General Roy Cooper is expected to enter the governor's race in 2016. Newton is the only candidate so far to declare a run for the attorney general post.
Newton said he would have been more active in lawsuits challenging federal laws and rules, including one that pushed back on President Barack Obama's administrative action deferring prosecution against some of those in the country illegally.
"I very much would have wanted to be in the lead on a lawsuit like that," he said. "That's what I mean when I say, 'standing up for the citizens of the state.'"
Although he has not officially declared yet, Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, is expected to run for attorney general, as will others in both parties.
Newton's announcement drew fire from the state Democratic Party almost immediately.
"Newton has spent his time in the Senate completely consumed by fringe social issues," said Ford Porter, a state Democratic Party spokesman. "Just last month, business leaders across the globe expressed outrage when Buck Newton co-sponsored a North Carolina version of Indiana’s job-killing legislation legalizing religious discrimination."