House Democrats condemn ‘hurtful’ GOP remarks about Black colleagues’ abortion, education
Democrats issued a statement late Wednesday condemning “hurtful remarks” Rep. Jeff McNeely, a Republican from Iredell County, made questioning whether a Black colleague was only able to attend Harvard University because he was a track athlete and a minority.
House Democratic Leader Robert Reives said lawmakers must conduct themselves appropriately and with respect for other members.
“I feel compelled to speak out when members of our caucus are targeted with unfair, untrue or hurtful remarks — especially when said by members of the majority on the floor of the House,” Reives said in a statement.
McNeely, the House Deputy Majority Whip, made his comments during a floor debate about a bill to expand the state’s school voucher program to allow access to the state’s wealthiest families. The controversial bill was approved on a 65-45 party line vote with Republicans voting in favor of the bill and Democrats against it. The bill is now headed to the Senate for its review.
McNeely asked Rep. Abe Jones, a Wake County Democrat and former Superior Court judge, if he would have been able to attend Harvard and Harvard Law School if “you were not an athlete or a minority or any of these things, but you were a student trapped in a school that the slowest … in the wild we’ll say the slowest gazelle does not survive but yet the herd moves at that pace, so the brightest child is held back.”
Reives called for a point of order before McNeely could finish his comments.
“I’m hoping I’m not the only who got shocked by that comment that the only reason you went to Harvard because you were Black and an athlete,” Reives said.
Jones said he didn’t mind answering the question.
“Harvard had five rankings for their students; one, two, three, four, five,” Jones said. “When I graduated from Harvard I was in rank two, so I earned my place and I did well.”
In the statement released by Democrats, Jones said he’s worked hard to get where he is today.
“It is disappointing that another member of our chamber would imply that I have been successful simply because of the color of my skin, or because I am an athlete,” he said. “I appreciate the member apologizing for his remarks.”
McNeely later apologized for the comments, which came an hour after Rieves had admonished Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Beaufort County Republican, for comments that he made Tuesday night about Rep. Diamond Stanton-Williams while she discussed her decision to have an abortion and noted that she grew up in the church.
Kidwell quipped to nearby staffers that Staton-Williams must have meant the Church of Satan. Those remarks, first reported by WRAL, came during a House discussion to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill to tighten abortion restrictions.
Stanton-Williams called Kidwell’s comment “untrue and hurtful.”
“I take my religious beliefs seriously, and it is unfortunate for someone to question my faith – especially another member of this chamber – when it doesn’t align with his,” Stanton-Williams said.
Reives said Kidwell’s remarks were out-of-bounds.
“I would not dare challenge a person’s religious beliefs here because they differ in some sort of practice than what I believe,” Reives said. “That is definitely no what we’re here for. Your relationship with God is personal.”
Reives said he’s upset that Kidwell’s remarks were made near non-partisan staffers and high school pages.
“A page heard it and was aghast, upset, very upset,” Reives said sternly. “I am apologizing to the pages because that is not who we are and that is not who the other 119 people are in this building and that is not what the senators stand for on that side. We don’t do that. We’ve got kids. We’ve got people who work here who don’t have a choice about being around us.”
Click below to hear Rep. Reives’ comments at the opening of Wednesday’s House session: