The leading candidates for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat have sizable public records.
Republican Ted Budd has shown his leanings based on votes during his three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Democrat Cheri Beasley is a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Before that she was an associate justice on the high court, a judge on the state Court of Appeals, a district court judge and an assistant public defender — a career that provides reams of court records illustrating her judicial rationale .
But comparing the candidates’ records can be tricky.
A good career on the bench is often an exercise in nuance. It also has more to do with upholding existing laws than creating or advocating new laws.
To analyze Budd and Beasley‘s record in the waning days of this election season, WRAL News asked each campaign to produce two lists. For Budd, a list of three to five congressional votes he’s particularly proud of and a list of cases Beasley was involved with, either as a judge or an attorney, that he’d like to see highlighted.
For Beasley, the request was reversed: Three to five decisions or cases that help make the argument for her election, plus three to five Budd votes her campaign wants highlighted.
Their answers, with context added by WRAL News and, in some cases, responses from the other campaign, appear below. The two candidates also sat, separately, for 10 minute interviews that are included in this weekend’s episode of On the Record, WRAL’s public affairs show.
Beasley’s campaign gave broad answers when asked to highlight rulings and cases she was proud of, saying more than 98% of her rulings have been upheld by higher courts. Her decisions were affirmed in all five cases that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to hearing cases, the chief justice is also an administrator, setting policy and making some hiring decisions in the state courts system. Beasley’s campaign said she developed a family leave program for employees that provides 12 weeks paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. That program helps court system employees and lawyers who handle cases in that system and whose leave depends on court schedules.
“Cheri has spent over two decades upholding the Constitution, protecting our rights, and working to keep families and communities safe,” the campaign said.
North Carolina attorneys said it can be difficult to get a read on someone’s potential as a U.S. Senator by analyzing their career as a judge. Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a long-time Republican who broke with the party over its embrace of former President Donald Trump, said he sees Beasley as “very much a centrist, moderate judge.”
“I would think if she was elected to the Senate, she’s not going very far out on any limbs,” Orr told WRAL News. “She’s not going to be [West Virginia Democratic Sen.] Joe Manchin and she’s not going to be [Vermont independent Sen.] Bernie Sanders. She’s going to be a mainstream … Democratic version of Richard Burr and Thom Tillis,” North Carolina’s Republican U.S. senators.
John Maddrey, who as state solicitor general argued cases in front of Beasley, said she showed judicial temperament and professionalism on the bench.
“I’m confident she took in as much information as she could from the variety of perspectives, and I think the judicial process requires the consideration of multiple points of view,” said Maddrey, who is now retired. “And I consider that a very important skill set that a potential member of the U.S. Senate should have.”
The parts of Budd’s voting record that he’s most proud of boil down to supporting job creation and border security while fighting “reckless spending” and opioid abuse.
Among his accomplishments, according to the campaign:
Trump-era tax cuts. Budd supported measures under Trump that significantly lowered business taxes and personal income taxes. Budd said in an interview featured on WRAL’s “On the Record” program that he intends to vote to make those personal income tax cuts permanent before they expire in 2025.
Trump tax-cut supporters promised economic growth and job creation. N.C. State University Economist Michael Walden said that, from 2017 to 2019, “evidence indicates it accomplished these goals.”
“The question is whether the growth would have been long-lasting,” he said. “We don’t know because Covid hit us in 2020.”
Budd’s campaign said he helped “whip” the bill, which means counting votes for and against pending legislation and convincing other members of your party to vote for a bill.
Walden said the USMCA agreement was an improvement over NAFTA. But in both cases, the measures didn’t do enough to help people who lost manufacturing jobs to free trade policies that moved labor-intensive work to other countries. “This is especially an issue in rural NC,” he said in an email.
Budd’s campaign said the bill was an example of reckless federal spending. He and U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., voted against it. Two other North Carolina Republicans, U.S. Reps. Greg Murphy and Mark Walker, didn’t vote. The rest of North Carolina’s delegation supported the bill.
Contacted by WRAL, the head of a training and advocacy group for people working against addiction called Budd “an ally the substance use disorder provider community could rely on.”
“He filed numerous pieces of bipartisan legislation to address the opioid crisis, restrict the influx of drugs onto the street and helped secure much needed funding for treatment,” Sara Howe,the chief executive officer of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, said in an email.
Border wall. Budd’s team also noted his support for building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, for boosting the number of border patrol agents there and for cracking down on illegal immigration in general. All of this has been a central plank of his Senate campaign.
Beasley on Budd
On Budd’s voting record, Beasley’s campaign pointed to:
2020 election results. Budd’s vote against certifying the 2020 presidential election, which came after a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, delaying the certification vote.
Budd and more than 100 other Republicans, including all but one North Carolina Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted against certifying results from at least one state.
“If someone broke the law … they ought to be punished, they ought to have their due process,” he told WRAL when asked about the attack.
Beasley’s campaign said that Budd, who Trump endorsed ahead of this year’s Republican Senate primary, “voted to overturn the 2020 elections and has sided with Trump time and again when it comes to peddling election lies and questioning the legitimacy of our elections.”
Budd’s position on abortion. The Beasley campaign said Budd “supports a total ban on abortion, even in the case of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.”
Budd reiterated last week that life begins at conception but said a mother’s life should be protected.
“No abortion at all unless the mother’s life is in danger?” he was asked.
“I’ve always been clear throughout my legislative career,” he responded.
Contraception. Budd’s vote in July against a bill that would have deemed contraception, such as birth control pills, a fundamental right under U.S. law. The bill, filed by North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning, was meant to get ahead of a potential effort to forbid contraceptives in some states by striking down a court precedent. Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that that ruling could be reviewed.
Most Republicans, including every North Carolina Republican in the U.S. House, voted against the bill. Budd’s campaign said he preferred language backed by Republicans that would have “provided women with easier access to contraceptives.”
Budd on Beasley
The Budd campaign said Beasley was “more concerned about the privacy of pedophiles” than victims.
A Beasley spokeswoman said the case was narrowly focused and that the Supreme Court majority “concurred with the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which included multiple conservative judges, that the search in question was unconstitutional.”
“Totally able to call her own shots, Beasley chose to go all in defending the cover-up of sexual predators,” Budd spokesman Jonathan Felts said in an email.
Beasley withdrew from the case in the summer of 2021 because she was leaving McGuireWoods to run full time for the U.S. Senate.
Beasley’s campaign said her work on the case “was brief and limited to an appeal of a procedural ruling, and is distinct from the lawsuits.”
Public defender record. As a public defender in 1998, Beasley defended Tilmon Golphin, who pleaded guilty to killing two law enforcement officers in Cumberland County. He’s serving a life sentence.
The Beasley campaign said that, as a public defender, “Cheri represented Americans who could not afford a lawyer, as guaranteed as a right by the U.S. Constitution.”
“The defendant’s legal team did not dispute his guilt,” the campaign said.
Cash bail. Beasley supports an end to cash bail for nonviolent offenders as part of a list of criminal justice reforms.
“And if a person isn’t likely to endanger their community, their poverty shouldn’t be what keeps them in jail,” she said in that speech.
“Both the Republicans and the Democrats are equally responsible for our current condition,” Bray said in a statement. “Why should the citizens of this country bailout banks and Wall Street while leaving veterans of our foreign wars homeless? It is time to put the power back in the hands of the people. It is time to explore new ideas and break free from the duopoly.”
His Senate platform includes commitments to Medicare for all, rent controls and ending the war on drugs.
“If you want something different, you have to do something different,” he said.