Refuting an attack on the NC GOP’s record on race

A monument to Confederate soldiers stands on the N.C. Capitol grounds in Raleigh, NC on Aug.16, 2017.
A monument to Confederate soldiers stands on the N.C. Capitol grounds in Raleigh, NC on Aug.16, 2017. News & Observer file photo

As a lifelong Republican and public servant, I was horrified to read Gene Nichol’s race-baiting diatribe “In NC, a crusade against Democracy (April 7)“ where he managed to mislead and use clever wordplay to paint the Republican Party as racist.

If one is to classify another person with such horrible labels, it would be prudent to back up such accusations with facts. Nichol chose to withhold crucial information in his crusade to sully the reputations of decent people with misinformation. Here’s the truth.

The meat of Nichol’s attack is his list of evidence showing Republicans to be intentionally racist: “[S]tate and federal racial gerrymandering, biased voter ID rules, racialized poll access restrictions, invigorated school segregation, eliminated race discrimination suits, deified confederate monuments, shielded police camera footage…”

Let’s take each piece of “evidence” one by one.

On “racial gerrymandering,” Nichol cleverly withheld this tidbit from the federal judge who wrote the opinion: “We make no finding that the General Assembly acted in bad faith or with discriminatory intent in drawing the challenged districts…Nor do we consider whether the challenged districts involved impermissible ‘packing’ of minority voters, as plaintiffs acknowledge that they bring no such claim.”

The legal decision, as Nichol well knows, concluded that the Republican legislature tried too hard to solve the problem of racially-polarized voting. The law requires the exact type of districts that were drawn provided there is enough evidence of racially-polarized voting. The legal decision determined that we did not provide enough such evidence. But the nuanced truth isn’t convenient for Nichol’s insults.

On “biased voter ID rules,” Nichol even goes so far as to describe “white-only Republican caucuses” writing racist laws “in secret.” Nichol fails to disclose that the voter ID law passed last year was sponsored by an African American Democrat.

Regarding “racialized poll access restrictions,” I can only assume Nichol is talking about last year’s changes to early voting rules. That legislation resulted in a 92-percent increase in early voting hours and a 19-percent decrease in the number of early voting sites. An exhaustive analysis by WRAL concluded that the changes did increase the distance to an early voting poll site for one type of voter more than others: rural whites. That’s hardly the “muscular racism” that Nichol alleges.

Next is “invigorated school segregation.” By this I presume Nichol means expanded charter school and private school options, which some Democrats have begun calling racist. Nichol again conveniently fails to mention the bill sponsored by an African American Democrat just last week to expand charter school and private school options. Every student deserves the opportunity to create his or her own success regardless of ZIP code, family income, or color. That’s the whole point of providing different school options to parents and giving them grants so that generational poverty is no longer an impediment to the best education.

Next, Nichol touts “eliminated race discrimination lawsuits.” Last time I checked, it’s still illegal for anybody to discriminate in housing, employment, and other activities because of race. The idea that the North Carolina state legislature changed this longstanding federal law is ridiculous.

Moving on to “deified confederate monuments,” Nichol yet again fails to disclose that Republicans backed the successful monuments commission, which reached a reasonable conclusion regarding confederate markers around the Capitol building in Raleigh. Senate Leader Phil Berger embraced the commission’s recommendation and committed to funding it in this year’s budget.

Next, Nichol lists “shielded police camera footage.” Yes, Republicans passed legislation regulating how and when police camera footage is released to the public. Judges have routinely granted the public access to footage when petitioned, and just this week a judge released body camera footage from a Charlotte officer-involved shooting.

As a newly elected Republican senator, I had always heard rumors about hate-filled and misleading opinion pieces about our party. I never expected to see that from a UNC law professor. I felt compelled to speak out to let you know the rest of the story.

State Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-34) represents Iredell and Yadkin counties.