Cheri Beasley was the first Black woman to serve as Chief Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. She won the Democratic primary in May, and if she wins her congressional race this fall, she would be one of the few Black women to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. With polls showing that Beasley is tied with her Republican opponent ahead of November’s election, she may be able to pull it off.
After being in public service for nearly 30 years, Beasley wanted to enter the Senate race because, she says, North Carolina “deserves so much better. I’ve seen how Washington has failed families here in the state.”
Beasley is a mom of twins, and she has made her interest in healthcare clear. “I can tell you from my own family’s experience, my husband Kurt and I have twin sons. We knew from birth that they would need lots of surgeries over their lifetimes and lots of medical treatments,” she tells ESSENCE. “We have spent far too many hours over the years haggling with insurance companies to make sure that [our children] could get the kind of coverage that they need. We know that we’re among the lucky ones, but it should not take luck for people to be able to access affordable health care for themselves and for their families.”
ESSENCE spoke to Beasley about the policies she would support being the only Black mother in the U.S. Senate (unless Rep. Val Demings also wins her race in Florida), turning North Carolina blue, and how she has been connecting with voters across the state.
ESSENCE: A recent poll came out showing that you are tied with [Republican Senate candidate] Ted Budd. What do you think that says about the viability of your campaign?
I’m really very excited about where we are in this race, and we’ve been traveling across our great state of North Carolina. There are 100 counties, and we’ve been to all 100 and really listening to folks and engaging them on the things that they are most concerned about, like higher costs. People are feeling everything from pain at the pump, to lowering prescription drugs and everything in between. My opponent who has been in Washington and engaged with corporate and special interests, for his years in Congress has demonstrated that he will not stand up for North Carolina, and I’m fully committed to doing so.
ESSENCE: North Carolina hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Obama in 2008. But since then, races have been close– at least presidential races have been close. And, again, you are tied now with Ted Budd. So what do you think has made the state more competitive, and what makes you believe you can win as a Democrat?
We have been seeing lots of excitement and enthusiasm in my race. I’ve been a statewide elected official, a public defender, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. And the connection really matters to people all across the state, and letting them know not just that I care, but that I have a demonstrated record. As Chief Justice I made sure that we implemented the first paid family leave policy for employees in our judicial branch, making sure that they can balanced their family and work lives. I addressed our human trafficking and creating the first human trafficking court in the state, holding traffickers accountable while providing support for victims. I addressed what’s called a prison pipeline, keeping kids in the classroom and out of our courtrooms. And so those kinds of efforts and understanding and respecting the rule of law and upholding the Constitution matter to people across the state.
ESSENCE: Is there anything that you could say about North Carolina– more structurally and broadly– about how it’s shifting towards being more receptive to Democrats?
I’ve been engaged across the state for over a decade. And right now we’re really building upon relationships that we’ve had for quite some time. And to see the excitement and enthusiasm for folks across the state really matters a whole lot. I think also, I’m a mom. I’m a wife. And demonstrated commitment really does matter a whole lot. There are a lot of folks who’ve not been engaged in elections in North Carolina for quite some time. And I’m so thankful that we’re reaching those folks. We started a long time ago knocking on doors and texting and making phone calls and really having constructive outreach. We’re reaching out to folks to let them know that there’s a real choice in this election.
ESSENCE: You could be the only Black mother in the Senate, unless Rep. Val Demings in Florida also wins her race. What kinds of policies would you advocate for that could benefit Black moms?
I think many Black women have been feeling so frustrated and disappointed in what’s not come out of Washington. I know from talking to women across the state, where African Americans make up more than 20% of the population, that they’ve been feeling like politicians in power have relied on that vote, and not all have been responsive.
There are real issues around maternal health. We had a wonderful woman with whom I spoke who talked about being pregnant, and she really felt that there was something wrong with her pregnancy. She spoke with several healthcare providers who discounted her concern. She ultimately ended up losing her child. It’s still important to make sure that we have policies that honor and are responsive to Black women, and [to have] policies that impact infant mortality, because it’s so much higher for Black children than any other group. That’s got to change, and having Black mothers in the Senate who will stand up and fight is hugely important.
It’s important that we support women and families in the Senate and make the Child Tax Credit– which is a middle class tax cut that helps so many families—permanent. It will make all the difference for so many families.
Folks are having a hard time with childcare because it is so expensive. Expanding access to affordable childcare certainly will be a priority for me. Paid family leave is important. These are the kinds of issues among many that I look forward to working on in the United States Senate.