Republican Reps. Keith Kidwell and Jeffrey McNeely resigned their leadership roles following controversial comments on race, abortion that targeted Democrats.
Posted 10:11 a.m. Today - Updated 1:46 p.m. Today
By: Will Doran, WRAL state government reporter, and Laura Leslie, WRAL capitol bureau chief
Two Republican lawmakers have resigned from party leadership positions in the state House of Representatives — moves that come days after each made controversial statements targeting Democratic lawmakers during floor debates.
During a brief announcement on the House floor Thursday, Rep. John Bell, the GOP majority leader in the chamber, said Reps. Keith Kidwell and Jeffrey McNeely resigned from their positions deputy whips within GOP leadership while retaining their seats in the legislature.
During debate over the state's new abortion restrictions last week, Kidwell had remarked that a lawmaker who spoke about getting an abortion had perhaps been raised in the Church of Satan.
In a separate debate over school vouchers, McNeely had questioned whether a Black lawmaker would have gotten in to Harvard University had he not been a minority and an athlete.
Bell said all House Republicans met Wednesday and decided together that it was best to remove them from leadership.
"We met as a caucus and just felt like it was in the best interest of our caucus, the best interest of our members, that we receive their resignation," Bell said in an interview Thursday. "We’re moving forward."
The top House Democratic leader, Rep. Robert Reives, is also Black and immediately objected to McNeely's comments in real time during the floor debate. On Thursday, Reives told reporters that he was glad to see Republican leaders making sure there were consequences.
"There's just no place for certain types of conduct," he said. "We've got to respect the institution. We've got to respect each other."
'It's a theme'
Reives said that while McNeely's comments were the ones that made news, he has heard other comments from GOP lawmakers that were paternalistic toward Black people and communities.
"Unfortunately, it wasn't even the only incident that day," Reives said. "It's a theme we've seen developing, and I'm glad to see that there's at least been an addressing of it at this time."
He added that there seems to be a broader trend of people becoming nastier about politics in the last few years. Political leaders should be trying to prevent that, he said, instead of fueling the fire.
"We can't change people's hearts," Reives said. "But I do think there is an obligation, on the part of all elected officials, to help defuse some of the animus you see throughout our state and our country."
Neither Kidwell nor McNeely immediately responded to requests for comment. Bell told WRAL there are no plans to replace them in their former roles as deputy whips. In legislative parlance, a whip is someone tasked with convincing rank-and-file legislators to vote how top leaders want them to vote.
“As elected officials, we must serve by example and be accountable for our actions, especially as leaders in the caucus," Bell said in a statement issued after the announcement. "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.”
The top Republican in the other legislative chamber, Senate leader Phil Berger, also commented on the decision Thursday.
"I think everybody was concerned about comments that were made by Rep. Kidwell, and comments that were made by Rep. McNeely," Berger told reporters. "... It would be my expectation that our members would would not do those sorts of things."
Other leadership roles
There's no indication that Kidwell or McNeely have resigned any of their other leadership roles.
Kidwell, of Beaufort County, serves as senior chairman of the House Finance Committee and also leads the group of far-right lawmakers called the House Freedom Caucus. McNeely, of Iredell County, is a top deputy of Kidwell's in the Freedom Caucus and is chairman of two House committees, on transportation and agriculture.
Neither has been a stranger to controversy in the past.
McNeely hosts a conservative talk radio show on which he recently compared State Bureau of Investigation agents to Nazis. Kidwell was one of two state lawmakers whose names appeared in 2021 on a hacked membership list of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia that was heavily involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Kidwell has previously declined to comment on whether he is an active member of the Oath Keepers. The other lawmaker on that leaked membership list was Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Swain. Clampitt has previously said he stopped being an active dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers several years prior.
Browny Douglas said:
( May 31st, 2023 @ 10:26 pm )
John Steed, you are big time right about John Bells love affair with the CCA. The CCA convinced him that a fi$h is more important for fun than food a long time ago. He face to face once told me he was retreating from fisheries issues. Since then yr after yr he got the CCA plaque.
John Steed said:
( May 30th, 2023 @ 5:11 pm )
John Bell is definitely an enemy of free speech as is his buddy Jason Saine whose fingerprintes are also on this hatchet job. Both need primaries from conservatives in this home districts. Bell is also a mouthpiece for the leftwing environmentalist group Coastal Conservation Associaiton, whose goal is putting our commenrcial fishemen out of business. He needs to be replaced in his primary.
Steven P. Rader said:
( May 29th, 2023 @ 3:39 pm )
I have learned more about this bushwhacking that makes it stink even more. Kidwell did not make that remark in debate on the House floor. He was in a break room when the Democrat legislator was carrying on a conversation some distance away rather loudly and said when she had an aborttion, she had gotten the blessings of her church to do it. Kidwell, who was at the coffee mahcine muttered under his breath "must have been the church of Satan" not loud enough for the Democrat legislator to even hear. However, a News and Observer reporter standing closer to Kidwell did hear it and was the one who raised a stink about it
The four GOP establishment legislators who demanded Kidwell resign as assistant majority whip included three who had ambitiions to be Speaker themselves after Tim Moore and considered Kidwell a rival to their right. Speaker Tim Moore was not one of the driving forces in this, although he probably signed off on it, but John Bell was in the thick of it.
Caving in to a whiny, grievance oriented Democrat posturing as a "victim" is bad enough, but colluding on a far left media hit job is even worse. Since its takeover by that California chain, the News and Observer has gone from garcen variety liberal to hard left.
( May 29th, 2023 @ 12:58 pm )
Sometimes it is hard to tell if our "leaders" in the state legislature are Demaocrat or Republican and this is just the latest one of them, and what they have done is indeed an attack on free speech. Have Bell and company gone "woke" on us?
Big Bob said:
( May 29th, 2023 @ 11:28 am )
Kindness requires strength.
Conservative Voter said:
( May 29th, 2023 @ 10:13 am )
What this really shows is that Republicans need leaders with a full set of vertebrae in the General Assembly, not weak sisters like Tim Moore and John Bell who get their panties in a twist when Democrats go into cry baby mode.
Concerned Taxpayer said:
( May 28th, 2023 @ 9:35 pm )
When I heard this on the radio and the reason for it, I was dumbfounded. This is using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. There are a lot worse things said all the time in politics. So now we have an explanation, the political gamesmanship of John Bell trying to damage potentiial opponents for the next Speaker's race. That stinks. This is the same John Bell who was just one of the kingpins in screwing NC taxpayers with the Obamacare Medicaid expansion and last year screwed electric ratepayers with the NC Green New Deal. Bell is not anyone we would ever want as House Speaker. This is just one more example of why NOT.
Rino Hunter said:
( May 28th, 2023 @ 7:59 am )
This is making a mountain our of a molehill, and was a dirty trick by John Bell in his campaign to be the next House Speaker. Bell is a squishy establishment RINO who does the bidding of the special interests and who colludes with the Democrats, in the mold of current Speaker Moore and former Speaker Thom Tillis. Moore is expected to draw himself a congressional seat to run for next election and Bell wants to follow him as Speaker. Bell sees Kidwell as his major potential challenger on the right. He wants to damage Kidwell's prospects and that is what this massive overkill of a response is all about, a political dirty trick by Bell. McNeely is just collateral damage to try to obscure that the target was Kidwell.
This is very much a move that Lix Cheney used to be known for in the US Congress. She liked to make a mountain out of a molehill in response to Democrat whining to damage conservatives from her position as House Conference Chair. John Bell has now made himself North Carolina's Liz Cheney, but he did it for a very self-serving reason.
While Moore undoubtedly would have given his okay to this, the main actor in it was Bell., who is trying to damage a potential rival for the Speakership. In doing so, however, he has just encouraged the Demcorats to keep playing the victim card on Republicans, and they will probably do so. There was nothing wrong with anything either of these legislators said and they should NOT have been punished for it. This is all about John Bell and his personal ambitions.
I emailed a couple of people who follow the General Assembly closer than I do and their take on this dog and pony show was the same as mine. And, of course the extreme left WRAL piled on as they would rather see a squishy RINO like Bell as Speaker than a conservative like Kidwell.
Browny Douglas said:
( May 27th, 2023 @ 10:45 pm )
I point out. If such legislative reaction to this was to ultimately make it taboo to utter the mention of Satan during a legislative session, then they must realize that the mention of God would be tabňo also. Because there must be two sides for there to be a decision. So, allowance of mention of one but not the other makes slaves of the user to themselves because they preclude themselves the right of changing their mind. With that said. LET FREEDOM RING!!
Steven P. Rader said:
( May 26th, 2023 @ 10:01 pm )
This is an attack on the freedom of elected officials to debate the issues, going down the same slippery slope as Europe. For a functioning democracy, our elected officials as well as citizens need full ability to debate issues. The statements complained of were clearly made in debate and in response to remarks of the thin-skinned Democrats who complained. They are presented by the ultra-leftwing WRAL article above totally stripped of context.
What we have are whiny thin-skinned Democrats with a victim mentality and a grievance mentality. This is something new in politics and Democrats a couple of decades ago would not have been so whiny. Unfortunately, the GOP leadership was wimpy themselves to even respond at all to the Democrat nothingburger. As George Orwell wrote, "freedom of speech is your right to say what I don't want to hear".
The British House of Commons is considered the "mother of parliaments" and a role model for how a democratsic legislative body should function. Throughout the history of that august body, comments about other members have been part of the process, and at periods even quite common. One famous such exchange involved Sir Winston Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in a Conservative cabinet and was speaking on the floor of the House of Commons. A female Liberal MP interrupted Churchill and exclaimed "Mr. Churchill, you're drunk" to which he replied "Madame, you're ugly, but tommorrow I will be sober".
There were no consequneces when a former Beaufort County legislator, Zeno Edwards made sexually suggestive comments toward a colleague in a House committee meeting. The meeting was in session considering a bill, and a female Democrat legislator who was a chiroprator by profession had just finished substative remarks on the bill when Edwards obtained the floor and rather than discussing anything about the bill, he decided to discuss the prior speaker, saying "I don't like to think of her as a back doctor because her front is not too shabby either." That was a totally graituitous remark that did not have anything to do with the bill or with the other legislators comments on the bill, but there were no consequences for it.
Politics is a rough sport and politicians as thin-skinned as these two whiny Democrats are just pathetic. It is also sad for the functioning of our elected legislators that the GOP House leadership caved in to their whining. That is starting down a slippery slope of restricting the freedom of debate of our elected legislators.
This brings us to the threats to freedom of debate now happening in Europe. In France, a French Senator was charged criminally a couple of months ago with "hate speech" over a social media post that "immigration kills" after an illegal alien migrant brutally murdered a young French woman. Then leftwing members of the EU parliament filed complaints seeking penalties against three conservative colleagues from three different parties from three different countries for remarks in debate on the floor of the parliament. The "offnese" of a Romanian MEP was to say that the safety of women should take precedence over gender ideology. An Italian MEP was targeted over her discussing an "honor killing" in a Muslim migrant family of a young woman who refused an arranged marriage. A Danish MEP was complained over because he mentioned official Danish government statistics on migrants and sex crimes in Denmark.
The left around the world is at war with free speech, and Speaker Tim Moore has just knuckled under to that attack here in our own General Assembly, which is shameful.
I wish the BO would seek sources other than a notorious far left propaganda organ like WRAL.
( May 25th, 2023 @ 6:16 pm )
It looks like there are some snowflakes in the GOP legislative leadership. I don't see the big deal on either of these statements. Affirmative action is controversial and if that is how this Democrat got ahead, he is a real snowflake to whine about it. And someone who would kill their own child in abortion is neither contempt.
Big Bob said:
( May 25th, 2023 @ 3:18 pm )
Nice to see there are SOME limits.
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