After controversial comments, Rep. Kidwell and other lawmaker resign from GOP leadership

After controversial comments, Rep. Kidwell and other lawmaker resign from GOP leadership
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 10:52 AM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2023 at 1:55 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WRAL) - Two Republican lawmakers have resigned from their leadership positions in the state House of Representatives — moves that come days after each made controversial statements targeting Democratic lawmakers during floor debates.

WRAL reports that during a brief announcement on the House floor Thursday, Rep. John Bell, the GOP majority leader in the chamber, said Rep. Keith Kidwell, of Beaufort County, and Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, of Iredell County, resigned from their positions within GOP leadership. They have not resigned from the legislature.

Kidwell is in his third term in the House and had been a deputy majority whip.

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 into 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.”

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 not do those sorts of things.”

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.