Carte Goodwin ’96 is a man who wears many hats: loving husband, doting father of two, avid West Virginia Mountaineers fan, successful attorney and one of Time’s 40 under 40 rising politicians.
Also, when he was tapped by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated after the death of Robert C. Byrd in July 2010, he became the country’s youngest serving senator at the age of 36. He held that post until November 2010, when Manchin was elected to fill that position.
Despite leaving the Senate, Goodwin left an indelible mark in the lives of his constituents during his launch onto the political scene.
From casting filibuster-breaking votes to being selected by The Huffington Post as one of the nation’s sexiest senators, Goodwin’s brief but eventful term is only one facet of his success. Goodwin hails from a long line of lawyers and has been practicing law in Charleston, W.Va., at Goodwin & Goodwin both before and after his stint in Senate.
In an exclusive phone interview with Goodwin, he discussed his experiences as a senator, his vision for the future of his career, and his fond memories as a Pioneer. With laughter and a thick, dignified West Virginia accent, here is what he had to say:
What is your daily life like now compared to what your day-to-day operations were as a senator?
It’s been a transition. Back in Charleston, practicing law is what I was doing at the time of my appointment [into Senate]. That is a lot less hectic and a lot less likely to land me on the evening news. As a senator, my days were extremely busy. I’d get up and get to the office as early as possible. Everything was subject to the schedule of the Senate, which changed day to day. There could be a series of votes scheduled for late morning, early afternoon. In between that I’d be taking questions from constituents, taking time to research to get familiar with the host of issues. It was a challenge but one that could not have been more rewarding.
How did your experiences at Marietta contribute to your post-grad success?
I cherish my time at Marietta—I learned so much and I was really fortunate. Early on in my college time, I settled on the idea of going to graduate school and always viewed that as where I’d get my vocational training. College was really an opportunity to get an education, a liberal arts education in every sense of the word. I was a philosophy major. … I took history classes, science classes, and I tried to capitalize on every opportunity that a wonderful school like Marietta has to offer.
You said you knew early on in your college experience that you knew you wanted to pursue politics and law. What inspired you to choose this career path?
I suppose I always had a passing interest in politics and public service. A lot of that came from my family and from growing up in West Virginia. There’s a saying here that goes, “Everything in West Virginia is political except politics—that’s personal.” But I never imagined I’d be holding a post or that I’d be seeking office.
What path have you taken to get to where you are now, from a philosophy major to a politician?
I was back practicing law in Charleston when I got active in a gubernatorial campaign in 2003-04 during which I ended up traveling the state with our Secretary of State, Joe Manchin. He was fortunate enough to win and I was fortunate enough to be hired as his general counsel. I helped craft legislation that dealt with policy and personnel issues. I really enjoyed my time working in state government but I left in early 2009 after four years there. Manchin was reelected. I came back to practice law but stayed in touch with him. Unfortunately Sen. Byrd passed away in 2010; the governor asked me if I’d serve in his position and there was really only one answer.
What were your most rewarding experiences of being a senator?
Within five minutes of being sworn in, I had my first vote. I was asked to cast the 60th vote to break a filibuster. As a result, about 20,000 West Virginians and a couple million Americans were saved from having their unemployment benefits cut off. That’s a satisfying day’s work. That vote will be one that I will always cherish.
What are your aspirations for the future of your career?
I don’t know. I enjoy what I’m doing; it makes it easy to come in and do what I do every day. A part of me will always be drawn to public service. In what form and what way, I’m not sure. In elected positions? Maybe, maybe not. I’m just going to play it by ear and continue to work hard.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What advice do you have for current students?
That’s a good question! Be yourself, I suppose. Be comfortable in your own skin. I think it’s certainly a notion that served me well in my brief tenure in Washington. Our elected leaders are so constantly in the public eye. To be at ease and to be comfortable while in that position, I think it’s refreshing to see that.
For students, I’d say drink it all in—take advantage of every opportunity you have in college. From applying myself to my studies to athletics to social life, I tried to do that. Try to enjoy your time in college. It’s a wonderful period in your life and one during which you forge so many relationships. I met my wife on the first day of freshmen orientation.
In your opinion, what are the three most significant issues facing our country today?
I’m not sure if I can rank them or narrow them down to three, but I think what most reasonable observers will tell you is our debt. People of goodwill will tell you something has to be done to get the annual deficit under control. They depart philosophically on how to do that but we’re going to have to find common ground and do that in a hurry. Second thing, the way the explosion of money is used in our political process. In this election year, two presidential candidates, together with outside groups, will spend in excess of a billion dollars. That’s a staggering amount of money with a staggering effect on how we choose our leaders and how we view them once they’re in office. It’s a difficult issue but something has to be done.
How would you encourage young adults to get involved in the upcoming election? Why is it important for young adults to be politically aware?
Just that—get involved. If a candidate speaks to them—it doesn’t have to be presidential, it can be a local election, statewide race—but if a candidate speaks to them, a set of issues speaks to them, go volunteer. No campaign will turn volunteers away and it is a rewarding, exciting experience. It’s especially important for young people because in the past they haven’t been involved. As a result, their voices haven’t been heard and then candidates don’t speak to them on the campaign trail. Young people feel like candidates don’t speak to issues concerning them but it’s a vicious circle. We saw that change in 2008.
I just think it’s important for everyone to be involved. We had, as a result of Sen. Byrd passing away, a special, important election, and the turnout was roughly 13 percent. That’s bad. That’s a bad thing. It’s bad for democracy.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I would hope that people would say I’m a good husband, a good father and a kind person and that I didn’t overact too much when the Mountaineers scored 70 points.
If you could have anyone play you in a movie, who would it be?
You know, I’m about 6-foot-3 and all these actors are about a half-foot shorter than me. I’m trying to think of someone tall and funny. ... Vince Vaughn. I would love to see Vince Vaughn’s impression of me.