Getting To Know Democratic Senate Candidate Cheri Beasley
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley jumped in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat this week. She joins four other Democrats: Former state Sen. Erica Smith, Mecklenburg County state Sen. Jeff Jackson, Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton, and virologist Richard Watkins.
Beasley comes with an impressive resume and immediately becomes a favorite to win the primary. She has been elected statewide twice — to the Court of Appeals in 2008 and the Supreme Court in 2014. She is the first African American chief justice.
But what’s unknown is what kind of Democrat she is. Progressive? Centrist?
In a story this week, the Raleigh News & Observer noted that “she has not run for partisan office before, and her launch offered few details about her positions on any hot-button or current issues before Congress.”
Beasley and WFAE politics reporter Steve Harrison talked this week and covered topics such as the Democrats’ elections bill H.R. 1 and the influx of migrants at the border. They didn’t get to the pandemic, health care and the environment. Her positions will likely become more refined over the next 11 months. But for now, “few details” is still a fair description.
Here is their conversation, with answers edited for brevity.
Q: You conceded to your chief justice opponent Paul Newby in December. How soon afterward did you consider running? Were you recruited? Was there any hesitation about entering the race?
A: Well, I thought it was important to be as deliberate about it as I am about all of these really important decisions because I certainly want to do what’s best for North Carolina. I have run successfully for statewide office twice and came close the third time. And it is about making sure I have the passion for this work. It’s about making sure that I understand and feel real compunction about making sure that people are served, have good health care, education and good jobs.
Q: Is there a strategic advantage for your candidacy in being an African American woman? What I mean is that the Democrats in North Carolina have put forth a number of white, middle-of-the-road candidates for Senate since 2008 and all lost. Is there energy in the Democratic Party today behind candidates of color? Is the energy behind more liberal candidates?
A: You know, those are the kinds of considerations that pundits are thinking about. I am very aware that there are only 22 women serving in the Senate (24 actually) and there are no African American women. But that’s not why I am running. It’s important for me to fight for the people of North Carolina, to know that education is so important here, that health care is critical and that good jobs come to North Carolina.
Q: Mecklenburg County Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson has said he won’t go negative during the primary. Is that your plan or goal as well?
A: You know, I have never been negative. I have always run my races and talked about what I bring to these races and that’s what I’ll do this time. And I’ll be the same Cheri Beasley that I’ve always been. This will be a race about integrity.
Q: And what kind of campaign are we going to see? Jackson is out now doing events in all 100 counties. What will the Beasley campaign look like?
A: Certainly, we have all been waiting for the moment we can all move about safely and I’m so thankful that the president has worked really hard to make sure the people have access to vaccinations and curbing the spread of COVID-19. I want to make sure as we are moving about we are doing so safely and we aren’t putting people at risk. And certainly, I will be in touch with the people of North Carolina.
Q: The North Carolina legislature is considering a bill that would make Election Day the cutoff for absentee mail ballots as opposed to three days after. Should this bill be seen in the context of Georgia as an attack on voting rights? Is it that severe?
A: What I am confident of is that Congress must address this issue. It is important that in every way, that no door of opportunity should be closed to anyone and that the ballot box should also be an opportunity and a right. It’s a constitutional right that people have the right to vote. And that we have uniform standards and laws in making sure there is access to voting. I am in favor of a national, uniform standard around that. And in any way that North Carolina's state legislators are working to curtail the ability of North Carolinians to vote is absolutely unacceptable.
Q: That leads me to H.R. 1, the For The People Act. I want to ask whether you support it — and whether you have any concerns about parts of the legislation. The ACLU has expressed concerns about parts of H.R. 1 that regulate speech by outside groups and campaign fundraising. Do you share those concerns?
A: What I am confident of is that we need a voting rights act that passes. I mean, the beauty about this robust debate is that everybody and most North Carolinians support uniform legislation about voting rights. People want to vote. People want to participate in the process. And it’s a right that everyone should have.
Q: So, do you support H.R. 1?
A: I do support it. But I also appreciate that it’s important that we have robust conversations to make sure it’s the best bill for the nation and for North Carolina.
Q: Some Democrats believe H.R. 1 is important enough to do away with the filibuster to pass it. Do you?
A: I am glad to take a look at it, but what I am confident of is that legislation that supports the people of North Carolina, that there be no barriers to that passing. Voting rights are very important. We really must do everything in our power to make sure that people are not prevented from casting their ballot and stating their choice for those who offer themselves for service.
Q: Does that mean you would support removing the filibuster?
A: What I said is that’s something that I would take a look at.
Q: Democrats in the House have introduced a bill to expand the Supreme Court to 13 members. Nancy Pelosi has said she opposes it — for now. Where do you stand on that idea?
A: I know that President Biden has appointed a commission to look more fully at what this might entail and what it might mean to the nation. I look forward to seeing the report and making a decision at that time.
Q: If you were to group yourself with members of the Senate or House, who would you most identify with politically?
A: I am the Cheri Beasley that people of North Carolina know. I am the Cheri Beasley who has wonderful relationships with people all across this state. I look forward to having meaningful conversations.
Q: In Wednesday night’s speech, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said, “America is not a racist country.” And North Carolina’s lieutenant governor Mark Robinson has said that he doesn’t believe the country is systemically racist. Are those accurate statements? Are they tone deaf?
A: When I was the chief justice, I made a comment publicly after the death of George Floyd that we all need to be mindful that there are racial and gender disparities in North Carolina in our courts. I think that’s a good thing that we are having these conversations. And it’s deeply important for us — for North Carolina and this nation — to move forward.
Q: There has been an increase of migrants at the border. The vice president has talked about there being complex issues, and the need to address the root causes for people leaving. That being said, is there anything the Biden administration should do now to stop the flow of people?
A: You know, it is a complex issue. What I’m confident of is the issue needs to be grounded in humanity. People are suffering in many ways. In North Carolina, we have a vibrant Latinx community. These are issues that we know and care about. I’m excited about creating solutions-based ideas going forward.