News: CJ Exclusives

Legislator Faces Prosecutor in GOP Attorney General Primary

State Sen. Buck Newton names Helms and Reagan as inspiration; Forsyth D.A. Jim O'Neill cites experience prosecuting criminal cases

Republicans will choose between a veteran legislator from Wilson and a longtime district attorney from Winston-Salem in the March 15 primary election for North Carolina attorney general.

State Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton and Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill are vying for the opportunity to succeed outgoing North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is leaving his post to run for governor.

Newton, who has served in the state Senate for three terms, has been instrumental in writing many of the new laws passed since Republicans took majority control of the legislature. He counts U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and President Ronald Reagan among his loftiest political heroes.\

“I worked for Sen. Helms and learned many lessons from him,” Newton said. “I have a special place in my heart for him. And I came of age during the time President Reagan was leading our country.”

Newton said it was the right time for him to pursue a higher office in the state and leave the legislature. He wants to implement one of the lessons he learned from Helms during this campaign.

“Sen. Helms knew how to take a principled stand, and he had the courage to do it,” Newton said. “I see a lot of overreach from the federal government. We need an attorney general who will stand up against that and fight for the people of this state.”

Newton cited recent moves by President Obama’s administration on health care with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, on more stringent environmental regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and lax immigration enforcement as his primary reasons for entering the race for attorney general.

“I’ve watched where we are as a state with our current attorney general, and we’re soon going to be making a choice about what kind of attorney general we’re going to have in the future,” Newton said. “We have to find a proper balance for our state with an attorney general who will stand up to the federal government.”

Newton, 46, is a graduate of Appalachian State University and Campbell Law School. He has practiced law for 16 years, and became a legislator in 2010 when he defeated five-term incumbent A.B. Swindell. In the state Senate, Newton has chaired judiciary committees since his first term.

O’Neill has 18 years of experience in the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office. He was appointed district attorney in 2009 and ran unopposed in his last election.

According to his election website, O’Neill cites his experience as a prosecutor, and his ability to translate that across North Carolina as his main motivation for seeking the higher office.

“North Carolina has an opportunity to have as its top law enforcement officer someone who has been prosecuting cases for the past 18 years,” O’Neill said in a press release. “I am the only candidate that has prosecuted cases, and have a proven track record of providing justice for the citizens of Forsyth County. I’d like to do the same for all the citizens of North Carolina.”

O’Neill has instituted a number of local initiatives dealing with domestic violence prosecution, prosecutions targeting sex offenders, as well as targeting chronic criminal offenders, especially those who abuse and take advantage of elderly adults.

O’Neill is a graduate of Duke University, where he played men’s lacrosse on scholarship. He earned his law degree from New York University Law School.