Reps. Keith Kidwell and Jeffrey McNeely disparaged Black colleagues on the House floor, with Kidwell joking that one belonged to the “church of Satan,” and McNeely suggesting another didn’t deserve to get into Harvard.
In separate instances over the last month, two white Republican leaders in the North Carolina House mocked a Black colleague’s faith and suggested another had gotten into Harvard only because he was a minority.
Now both Republicans have lost their leadership positions.
State Reps. Keith Kidwell and Jeffrey McNeely on Thursday resigned their positions as deputy whips because of the comments, North Carolina House leaders said. (Whips are responsible for rounding up votes.)
Kidwell, (who represents several Eastern N.C. counties), and McNeely, (Iredell), are members of the far-right House freedom caucus. They have lost only their leadership positions, they did not resign from the House.
The comment that cost Kidwell his leadership post came during the House vote on the 12-week abortion ban on May 16.
As Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams spoke on the House floor about her own difficult decision to get an abortion, she invoked her faith and a childhood raised in the church.
Kidwell, who was one of the sponsors of a previous bill that would have banned abortion at conception, turned to his staff and said that she probably meant the “church of Satan.”
His comment became known only because Will Doran, a reporter with WRAL, was sitting nearby, heard it, and reported it.
Rep. Robert Reives, the House Democratic leader, said in a news conference Thursday that Kidwell’s comments reflected a common response during debates on bills.
“I took the ‘Church of Satan’ comments very personally,” Reives said, “because that happens since I’ve been here, that’s happened too often on the floor.”
It reflects a belief, he said, that if there’s a disagreement on a political issue, the other person must not be the right kind of Christian.
McNeely’s comments were far more public than Kidwell’s.
During a debate last week over private school vouchers, Rep. Abe Jones—who graduated near the top of his class at Harvard Law School and served nearly 20 years as an N.C. Superior Court judge—was speaking on the floor when Rep. McNeely interrupted him to ask a question.
“Would you have been able to maybe achieve this if you were not an athlete, or a minority, or any of these things?”
Then he started talking about gazelles in the wild.
Reives sought a point of order to call out McNeely.
“I’m hoping I wasn’t the only one that got shocked by that comment,” Reives said to Jones, “that the only reason you went to Harvard was because you were Black and an athlete?”
McNeely tried to qualify.
“I did not say that, I said ‘did that end up being one of the reasons,’ I do not know that, I asked him this, I asked him this,” McNeely said.
Speaker Tim Moore cut off McNeely and gave the floor back to Jones.
“I’m just going to say one thing,”Jones said. “Harvard had five rankings for their students, 1-2-3-4-5. When I graduated from Harvard I was ranked two. So, I earned my place and I did well.”
Democratic lawmakers gave him a standing ovation.
Rep. John Bell, a Republican, announced the resignations on the floor on Thursday. His office later released a statement.
“As elected officials, we must serve by example and be accountable for our actions, especially as leaders in the caucus,” Bell said in the statement.
“While apologies have been made and accepted, we believe this is an appropriate action and step forward. The House Republican Caucus remains united as we work towards our shared goals this legislative session.”
Reives said he understood “when people get out of sorts and they say things that they wish they hadn’t said,” but urged lawmakers to “be better.”
Such displays did not just damage relationships, but the integrity of the Legislature itself, he argued.
“It’s not just about racial undertones, it’s not just about misogyny, it’s not just about disparate treatment of other minority groups,” Reives said. To allow these comments, he said, perpetuates the idea that “it’s OK to treat badly people who are not like you.”
McNeely apologized to Jones both during the floor debate and privately afterward, Jones said.
Staton-Williams told the News and Observer that Kidwell never apologized.
Neither Kidwell nor McNeely responded to emails from Cardinal & Pine seeking comment.