47 years late, WV Democrats’ Affirmative Action Plan excludes minority perspectives

“We’ve had no input on this plan,” said Hollis Lewis, co-chair of the party’s recently formed Affirmative Action Committee.

47 years after Democratic Party bylaws began requiring state parties to implement an affirmative action plan aimed at promoting diversity within the party, West Virginia Democrats attempted Thursday to adopt such a plan without input from the minority communities it is meant to empower.

“We’ve had no input on this plan,” said Hollis Lewis, co-chair of the party’s recently formed Affirmative Action Committee. “No one asked our opinion (…) You cannot draft a plan on behalf of us [when] we’ve had no time to review the plan—We didn’t even see it.”

Lewis is one of 14 Democrats who opposed efforts during the state party’s recent Executive Committee meeting to vote on a drafted Affirmative Action Plan before any members of the AA Committee could review and revise the plan.

After more than an hour of heated debate, a 35-member majority approved a motion to vote on the plan, an action firmly opposed by all five newly seated members of the AA Committee, who argued that adopting the plan—even as a “draft”—without contribution from AA Committee members contradicts both the purpose of the committee’s formation and party bylaws.

“We don’t have any voice in this,” said Mary Ann Claytor, a newly seated AA Committee member. “I don’t even know why y’all have this caucus.”

Executive Committee members Sam Petonsk, Judith Stephens, Mike Pushkin, Robert Ofsa, Susan Miley, Tina Grey-Russell and Walt Auvil joined AA Committee co-chairs Hollis Lewis and Mary Thorp and each of the AA Committee’s five newly seated members—Cody Thompson, Aryanna Islam, Jarryd Powell, Kim Felix and Mary Ann Claytor—in voting against the approved motion to vote on the AA Plan via email after the meeting.

State party chair Belinda Biafore called for a vote on the plan after at-large AA Committee members were kicked out of the meeting, conducted via Zoom, but some other Executive Committee members insisted upon seating the new members prior to voting—the proper process outlined both in party bylaws and the meeting’s written agenda.

“I believe the members of the [AA] Committee should be instated before we consider the [AA] Plan, so they can vote on it,” Auvil said, making a point of order challenging Biafore’s initial attempt to hold the vote. “It defeats the whole purpose of having the [AA] Committee if its members do not have input on the plan.”

Auvil noted that state parties were ordered in 1974, by national party bylaws, to implement AA programs.

After being relegated to mere spectators for most of the meeting, the five at-large AA Committee members were allowed back into the Zoom call and seated as members of the committee.

Each of the new members argued against passing the AA Plan until minority caucus members could thoroughly review and revise it.

“I can’t even comprehend us not seating the members of the [AA] Committee prior to voting on the [AA] Plan when they’re the ones who are supposed to be creating it,” Miley, co-chair of the newly formed Hispanic Caucus, said. “That’s just insane to me. It looks so horribly bad. I can’t even comprehend us considering this.”

Biafore argued the “first draft” of the plan needed to be approved immediately—even without any input from the committee members meant to write it—to meet national party deadlines.

“The only other thing I want to say is that we did reach out and ask for input from the [AA] Committee,” Biafore said. “I didn’t ask them to complete a plan [but] simply to give me some input, [and] I got nothing.”

Lewis, before having his microphone muted, said Biafore only requested input from the AA Committee the night before Thursday’s meeting.

“As a Black West Virginian, this is a slap in the face,” Lewis said in the meeting’s closing moments.

Seconds later, Executive Committee member Nick Casey motioned to adjourn the meeting, which promptly ended despite evident protests from several other committee members.

Follow the Holler on Twitter @HollerWV and Instagram @WVHoller. We’re on Facebook too! Follow writer Douglas J. Harding @douglasjharding.

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