When Pat Timmons-Goodson entered the race for a House seat in North Carolina, she couldn’t have known that six months later the nation would be plunged into protests over excessive use of police force and racial inequities following the killing of a Black man.
Timmons-Goodson is well-poised to navigate the politically fraught debate as the first black woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court and the former vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which recommended changes in policing during her tenure.
“When you think about all of these issues coming to a head right now, I’m not sure you could build a better candidate and vehicle to discuss these issues than Justice Timmons-Goodson,” said Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist in the state.
George Floyd’s death has sparked a national conversation on policing and race relations that could reshape political races at all levels before the November elections. That includes in the 8th District, where Timmons-Goodson is challenging Rep. Richard Hudson (R) — and where Floyd was born.
“The issues that are being discussed now are going to be top of mind in November and beyond,” said Dee Stewart, a Republican strategist in the state, referring to the coronavirus and the movement around the protests. “These issues have everyone’s attention in a much broader and deeper way than many other issues that have come up over many years.”
Democrats hope the debate could boost Timmons-Goodson in a newly redrawn district that still leans Republican but includes more diverse areas. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added her to its Red to Blue program, which provides organizational support for top-tier candidates in competitive districts.
“I will be speaking out as often and as loudly as I can as it relates to the issues involving excessive use of force, and having an impact where I can,” Timmons-Goodson said in an interview with Bloomberg Government.
She suggested that the current push for change in the country was unique.
“I’m at a loss for words in explaining what we’re witnessing, it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It really is a movement.”
Timmons-Goodson is striking a moderate tone with her approach to the issues of civil rights and policing. Unlike some liberal activists, she isn’t calling for decreasing funding to police departments.
In a video launching her campaign, she said her background as a judge will help her to listen to both sides of an argument. She also highlighted growing up in the district as part of a military family; her father was an Army sergeant who served at Fort Bragg — which is in the district — when she was a child.
She was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2006 by then-Gov. Mike Easley (D) and retired at the end of 2012. President Barack Obama appointed her to the civil rights commission in 2014, then nominated her in 2016 to be a federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. But the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t act on the nomination.
Even with the current prominence of the police issue, Timmons-Goodson said she isn’t abandoning her central issue: health care, particularly in light of data showing Blacks are 2.6 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than Whites.
“You can’t work, it’s difficult to play, it’s difficult to do anything if you’re in poor health,” she said.
Hudson has responded to demands for policing changes. He released a “George Floyd JUSTICE Act Discussion Draft” on June 12 in hopes of enacting “real, meaningful, and bipartisan police reform.” Days earlier he called for action at a memorial service for Floyd in Raeford, N.C., near where Floyd was born.
“Now is our opportunity and we’ve got to seize it,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, both parties have said they want to address problems with policing. House Democrats have released legislation and Senate Republicans say there are developing their own plan.
Hudson didn’t support the bill released by Democrats last week, but he is “involved in multiple discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate and is committed to bipartisan solutions that bring real change,” his campaign manager Robert Andrews said.
Timmons-Goodson faces an uphill climb to unseat Hudson, who has represented much of the redrawn district since 2013. Known for his support of veterans issues — Fort Bragg is in the district — he’s been diligent about being visible in the area.
“He’s the kind of guy who shows up at every ribbon cutting, funeral and local gathering of note,” Jackson said.
Republicans are confident in Hudson’s ability to hold the district, even though it now includes all of Cumberland County and Fayetteville, where blacks make up more than 40% of the population. It’s one of the state’s most competitive districts on paper. Still, election handicappers including the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the race as “likely Republican.”
Protests have occurred even in heavily Republican areas of the Fayetteville-based district in the center of the state. That includes Stanley County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2 to 1. The 8th District’s Democratic Party Chairman Dylan Frick said he expected about 30 vehicles to show up for a driving protest. Instead, he said, it took 30 minutes for him to get a spot in line.
“The crowds were diverse,” he said. “People that I’ve never seen before were coming to get involved with the political process.”
Even if other issues eclipse police use of force by November, the issue could still help set Timmons-Goodson up for a win, Jackson said.
“Because of her unique experience, because of her unique background, it enables her to talk about this issue right now while people are listening,” Jackson said.
But Republican strategist Carter Wrenn said the issue could also benefit GOP candidates, particularly if sporadic violence at some of the protests and calls by a number of activists to “defund the police” continues. Voters will then be looking for a “law and order” candidate, he said.
“They’ll be looking at people on the ballot and deciding whether they’re tough on crime or weak on crime,” Wrenn said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org