Late Thursday afternoon, as most of us scruffy media types were mopping up stories from the lawmakers early morning veto override session (link), Sen. Floyd McKissick sent a news release on behalf of the Legislative Black Caucus calling out Republicans for showing "little compassion on issues relating to African Americans in North Carolina."
The release says that legislation of photo ID for voting, repealing the Racial Justice Act, under-funding of pre-K and the Medicaid shortfall fits that pattern.
It also singles out how Republican lawmakers have dealt with two high-ranking African American bureaucrats. From the release:
Last year, Marilyn Chism, an African American, was abruptly ousted as head of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division. A move apparently made for no other reason than to flex their political muscle. Recently Lynn Holmes, an African American who serves as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Division of Employment Security in the Perdue Administration, has been unfairly targeted by Republican leadership, which referred to her as an “embarrassment” and “incompetent.”
I asked McKissick, a Durham Democrat, what prompted the news release and what he was hoping to achieve.
"The thing that triggered it the other day is that I got an awful, awful lot of calls and e-mails about the person from the Employment Security Commission who had been summoned before the Revenue Laws Study Commission," McKissick said. "There has been a lot of networking and communication within the African American community about her being singled out because she was African American."
McKissick was referring to a meeting that happened early on Wednesday morning before the day's veto-override shenanigans began.
Holmes is the former chairwoman of the Employment Security Commission and now does essentially the same job as an assistant secretary now that the commission is under the supervision of the Commerce Department.
On Dec. 7, Holmes did not show up at a Revenue Laws Study Committee where lawmakers had invited her to talk the state's mounting debt to the federal government for unemployment claims. Currently, North Carolina owes the feds some $2.6 billion and that debt is mounting as jobless claims continue to come in.
Holmes' absence so incensed lawmakers, particularly Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, that the committee subpoenaed her to appear at their January meeting. That's a rare move at the General Assembly, and is usually reserved for when lawmakers want to send a single they are upset.
When Holmes arrived to testify Wednesday, she was sworn under oath, something the committee didn't do for any other witness. For example, Commerce Sec. Keith Crisco, who is white, spoke about the same topics but was not sworn in.
"You can be assured it wasn't because she was black," Rucho said Friday. "We were concerned about the fact we weren't getting any information."
Holmes was the only person under subpoena, Rucho said, which is the reason she was the only person sworn.
North Carolina employers have already seen their unemployment insurance assessment go up 0.03 percent, and could see further increases if the state is ever to pay off its mounting debt, Rucho said.
Rucho said Holmes was singled out because she was in charge of a troubled agency that wasn't responding to attempts at legislative oversight.
"At what point whether someone is black, white or green do you continue to accept no action?" Rucho said.
As for the black caucus' news release, Rucho said: "McKissick is full of hot air."
When speaking to McKissick Friday morning, I asked him about the language in the news release. It was very careful and stopped short of accusing any one person or group of racism.
"Certainly the choice of words was careful," McKissick said. "Obviously terms like racism are perceived in a way that sometimes sets people off. And in fact, you want to be careful in selecting and using terms such as 'racist,' but you also want to be deliberate in identifying a pattern of behavior that is grossly insensitive and is moving in a direction we don't want to see our state taken."