By Will Peischel
Like Merrick Garland, who then-president Barack Obama nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, Pat Timmons-Goodson was the perfect appointee for the judicial position she did not receive. Her familiarity with North Carolina’s courts went back to 1981 when she began her three-decade legal career as an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County, home to Fort Bragg and Pope Field. Before being nominated in 2016 to be a district judge on the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Timmons-Goodson was a justice on the state’s supreme court and vice chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights.
As with the US Supreme Court, federal judges must be confirmed by Congress, which Republicans controlled at the time of the nomination. And, as with their approach to the nomination of Merrick Garland, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) wasn’t about to play a part in broadening Democratic control of the courts by conducting confirmation hearings for the nominees. So she waited out the final year of the Obama presidency in purgatory, until Donald Trump’s inauguration, when her nomination expired.
Now, Timmons-Goodson hopes to move from the judicial to the legislative branch of government by running for North Carolina’s 8th congressional district this November. She hopes to dislodge Richard Hudson (R-NC), a moderate Republican who’s comfortably held the seat since his victory in 2012. In the years leading up to Hudson’s tenure, the seat was held be two officials dogged by scandal. Democrat Larry Kissell, who won the seat in 2008 with the support of labor unions, lost their backing when he voted against a healthcare reform bill in 2010—ultimately causing them to run an independent candidate against him. More recently, Robin Hayes, a Republican who held the seat before Kissell, resigned as head of the state’s Republican party after a corruption indictment in April 2019.
In September 2019 the district changed when a panel of three judges ruled that partisan gerrymandering had to stop, and the congressional map was redrawn. The result was that the less conservative Cumberland County—where Timmons-Goodson spent much of her childhood and cut her teeth as a young attorney after graduating from the University of North Carolina School of Law—was folded into the newly created district.
Timmons-Goodson announced her candidacy in December, but three months later the novel coronavirus epidemic made traditional campaigning impossible. Mother Jones caught up with her to talk about her shift into politics, how to campaign when there’s an epidemic, and how COVID-19 has made the issues already facing the 8th district more visible than ever. As she wrote in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, “I reminded my mother that many have said, ‘When America catches a cold, African Americans catch pneumonia.’ COVID-19 has shown that saying still holds true.”
How has this pandemic altered the day-to-day operations of your campaign?
The manner in which we go about campaigning has changed, but the goal hasn’t. The goal has always been and will continue to be communicating with our voters and our supporters, and listening to what’s on their mind, and for us to communicate what our priorities are and how we would plan to serve them in Washington. Back in the good old days, you would go out to an event and physically be present in the same room with someone, where you can slap your supporter or friend on the back, shake their hand, kiss their baby. We’re unable to do that. But the goal is the same. So we’re now on the telephone, or we’re on Zoom. I’ve tried to set up a location that, when I’m there, my mind is in the work mode, but still haven’t quite achieved that yet. Maybe the dining room today if the Zoom meeting is a little more formal. If I’m just talking and working with staff, I may be in the guest room in a real comfortable chair with my my feet up.