West Virginia Democrats are complaining that the state party set up an affirmative action committee that has been required by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) since 1974 and then immediately ignored the wishes of the panel.
Affirmative action, also know as equal opportunity, is designed to counteract historic discrimination faced by ethnic minorities, women, and other underrepresented groups.
To foster diversity and compensate for the ways such groups have historically been excluded, institutions with affirmative action programs prioritize the inclusion of minority groups in the employment, education, and government sectors, among others.
In West Virginia, leaders of the state Democratic Party decided to submit a draft affirmative action plan to the DNC without diverse members of the new affirmative action committee signing off.
West Virginia State Democratic Party chairwoman Belinda Biafore, a close ally of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, conceded in March to pressure from progressive party members and activists for the organization to follow the DNC’s 1974 directive to form an affirmative action committee.
Following the AAC rejecting Biafore’s plan, the state executive committee held a meeting the next day that was aired live on YouTube. The key agenda item was a vote on the affirmative action plan. At the beginning of the June 3rd Zoom meeting, Biafore set the tone by blocking the six at-large members of the AAC—two of whom are African American—from joining the meeting, explaining that the six at-large AAC members would be let into the meeting after the vote on the affirmative action plan, thus eliminating the chance for their objections to the affirmative action plan.
Biafore, who is Manchin’s cousin, has been the chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party since 2015.
Manchin, who is defending the ability of Republicans to block legislation by insisting that Senate rules reject the concept majority rule and preserve the filibuster, has been silent as his allies push through an affirmative action plan with zero input from party members who have faced disadvantages.
“Why are white people drafting a plan for Hispanics and Black people?” asked member Susan Miley during a wild June 3 meeting of the West Virginia State Executive Committee.
Biafore introduced Hollis Lewis and Mary Thorp to the executive committee as co-chairs for the newly formed state Affirmative Action Committee [AAC].
“I’m so excited to be here, this is historic, and I think what we’re doing now is moving this party, and eventually we’re going to move this state in the right direction,” said Lewis, an African American lawyer and professor who is co-chairman of both the West Virginia Democratic Party Black Caucus and the AAC.
The introductions were 46 years in the making. In 1974, the DNC’s charter directed all state parties to create an affirmative action program. But West Virginia Democrats never did so, only conceding in March to activists and progressive party members’ pressure for the state party to follow the DNC’s directive from decades ago and form an affirmative action committee.
Preceding the executive committee meeting was the first meeting of the AAC on June 2nd. Multiple sources told Status Coup that after the state party by-laws were changed on March 15th to begin the process of forming the AAC—with a deadline two months later—chairwoman Biafore sat on her hands.
Biafore expedited the process only after a state party member sent her a frustrated email on April 30th—with DNC chair Jaime Harrison and other national DNC members copied—about the lack of action on the formation of the AAC and other diversity committees.
“However, during the Affirmative Action Committee’s first meeting with the state party executive committee, the group was not allowed to draft its plan as stated in the bylaws ,” said Lewis. “Instead, the party executive committee took it upon itself to prepare a plan on behalf of the Affirmative Action Committee without any input from its members. The plan passed despite adamant protests from members of the Affirmative Action Committee.”
“While it was exciting that the state Democratic Party finally developed the diversity caucuses, we left the first meeting with the executive committee deflated,” said Lewis. “Instead of being heard, we were a box to be checked off the state party’s obligations list. We were not invited to the table as colleagues, but menu items, discarded once we no longer served a purpose. These sorts of neglectful and dismissive actions are not unique. Many Black and underrepresented people realize that sometimes seats at a table are inadequate and may do more damage to our community.”
At the June 2 AAC meeting, Biafore presented members with an affirmative action plan that was constructed with no input from the group; a violation of state party by-laws which stipulates the panel itself would draft the affirmative action plan that is voted on by the executive committee.
Following the AAC rejection of Biafore’s proposal, the state executive committee held a meeting the next day to vote on the affirmative action plan.
At the beginning of that June 3 Zoom meeting, Biafore blocked the six at-large members of the AAC—two of whom are African American—from participating, explaining that they would be let in only after the vote on the affirmative action plan, thus eliminating any chance for their objections to be considered.
“The treatment and disrespect on display last night was unconscionable,” said Lewis.
The affirmative action issue followed reform efforts stretching back two years by Democrat Selina Vickers.
Vickers and state party leaders reached agreement on a memorandum of understanding, and establishing an affirmative action plan is an aspect of that.
“We recognized major problems. No transparency. No diversity,” Vickers said recently.
“I can’t even comprehend us not seating the members of an affirmative action committee prior to voting on the affirmative action plan when they’re the ones who are supposed to be the ones creating the affirmative action plan,” Miley said. “That’s just insane to me.”
New Jersey political machine bosses have always preferred to remain under the radar but they are able to guarantee themselves the opportunity to exclude real diversity on the strength of the ‘organization line’ —a device that allows primary election ballots to be rigged in a way that makes it difficult for challengers to win the nomination for any office.
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