By Skye David
“There is no greater challenge and no greater honor than to be in public service.”
— Condoleezza Rice
The words of Condoleezza Rice ring true when speaking with the North Carolina House Speaker’s Chief of Staff Bart Goodson. In a political environment that is seen as incredibly polarized, Goodson’s stabilizing demeanor and passion for the people of North Carolina is both noticeable and enviable.
Goodson began his professional career working in the private sector where he represented a variety of clients until 2012, when he chose to enter the public sector. Reaching a point in his career where he was looking for a new experience, he quickly jumped at the chance to give back to the state he loves so dearly. He began working with the N.C. Department of Justice in prisoner litigation and Section 1983 cases. He moved on to the Industrial Commission, as the sole Deputy Commissioner who heard all eugenics petitions, studied all medical claims, and wrote all orders in compliance with the eugenics program that the General Assembly had implemented. Goodson then moved to the State’s IT Agency serving as General Counsel. In 2015 he was asked to join the Speaker’s staff as General Counsel. 2017 brought the dual role as Chief of Staff/General Counsel where he continues to serve. The word “client” has expanded throughout Goodson’s career from focus on individuals, to groups, to state agencies, and now North Carolinians as a whole. The variety of the work and the progression is a true testament to who Goodson is as an attorney: results-oriented, humble, and hard-working.
When thinking about a “government attorney,” it’s easy to think of traditional jobs, but the role of Speaker’s Chief of Staff is anything but traditional. Goodson assists the Speaker first and foremost, but serves all members on requests or needs they may have. He describes his day-to-day as “full of negotiations,” which consists of facilitating negotiations with members of the caucus, as well as with members of the opposing party and even with their Senate counterparts.
In his role as General Counsel, he works closely with General Assembly Central Staff vetting bill drafts and ideas for potential legal issues. As Chief of Staff, he not only manages the Speaker’s staff, but also members and members’ staff, all while ensuring that the Speaker’s schedule runs as smoothly as possible. During the legislative session, Goodson says it is not uncommon for him to work 60-80 hours a week.
Goodson noted a misperception among attorneys that governmental attorneys don’t deal with complex or exciting issues as one might in private practice. After working in both sectors, he has found that the most complex and challenging work has been in state government. In fact, Goodson’s job can be seen in stark contrast to a private sector attorney, or even with city attorney’s roles. Whereas an attorney in a city position acts on behalf of the town and their boards/employees, Goodson reads and assesses local bills, statewide legislation, and 120 separate and often unique perspectives on how to best deal with all levels of government. In his advisor role to members, Goodson has to consider what is individually best for a member on a local level, while always considering the best interest of statewide leadership. Nights are often long and many decisions become tedious, but getting the opportunity to impact so many lives for the better make the intricacies of the job worth it.
Anyone who works at the General Assembly will agree with Goodson’s statement that no two days are the same. Between managing staff, members, and legislation, the epicenter of all interactions are legislative confidentiality and privilege. The decisions he makes impact the citizens of the state and our everyday lives. It’s quite a weight to have on the shoulders of one man, but the well-being of all the citizens of North Carolina is something that he strongly considers in his daily decisions.
When walking around the General Assembly, often the loudest voices grab the most attention. It’s easy to overlook those who are dedicated to serving the state in the most selfless way possible and to focus on those who are causing the commotion. Goodson, never seeking the spotlight, is the prime example of this- an objective viewpoint in an otherwise hectic workplace; a voice of reason when necessary, and a humble servant to all of us.