Out of the loop

Lacking legislative clout, N.C. black lawmakers turn to advocacy

Herbert L. White | 4/24/2013, 4:52 p.m.
Black lawmakers in N.C. gain in numbers, turn to advocacy
N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander (right) talks to Verida Curry at a legislative forum April 21 at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte. A record number of African Americans in the N.C. General Assembly is serving during the 2013 legislative session as a result of redistricting that solidified Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Photo by Paul Williams, III

Indeed on April 24, the Legislative Black Caucus arranged for a press conference to criticize a pair of Republican-sponsored bills: One would require job applicants to pass a drug test before enrolling in WorkFirst, a welfare-to-employment program. The other is a voter ID requirement.

"The GOP continues to create legislation that is unconstitutional and severely restricts our citizens from providing for their families," said Rep. Garland Pierce, a Wagram Democrat and chair of the NCLBC. "Their latest ploy is to forbid applicants of the WorkFirst program by forcing those who are attempting to rejoin the workforce to pass a drug test. they are determined to take every opportunity to marginalize eligible voters who cast ballots at the polls."

African Americans are also ascending to leadership positions in the minority caucus as at a faster rate. The House minority leader is Larry Hall of Durham, Rosa Gill of Wake County is one of three Democratic whips, or vote-counters, and Marvin Lucas of Fayetteville is a Democratic Council co-chair. In the Senate, Dan Blue of Durham is a Democratic caucus co-chair while Gladys Roberts and Floyd McKissick are deputy minority leaders.

"They are the majority in the Democratic caucus now and secondly, they hold a lot of leadership positions in the Democratic Party," Coble said.

If challenges to the GOP-driven remap fail in court, the legislative dynamic will likely remain. That means African Americans and Republicans will remain in reliably uncompetitive districts with the GOP maintaining control of the legislative agenda.

"I don’t see any backing off of the number of African American legislators during that eight-year time," Coble said. "Those districts are designed to help Republicans and African Americans, so that’s likely what will continue … unless, of course, the courts throw out the redistricting plan."