The fallout from the West Virginia Democratic Party’s passage of an affirmative action plan without the input from any people of color continued on Friday, June 11, with a meeting between Party Chair Belinda Biafore and the Affirmative Action Committee. Although hopeful a new path forward could be found, the meeting saw calls for Biafore to resign and her refusal.
The West Virginia Daily News confirmed the closed meeting took place on Friday, June 11, after speaking with several of the participants, including Kim Felix, one of the at-large diversity members of the WV Democratic Executive Committee, and Mary Thorp, co-chair of the Affirmative Action Committee. The meeting included members of the Affirmative Action Committee, Biafore, Delegate Doug Skaff, and Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin serving as a moderator.
“Initially the meeting was to come to some sort of consensus so we could move forward, but unfortunately Chair Biafore did not apologize for her actions during the June 3rd meeting,” explained Felix. “… Unfortunately, she didn’t have a conciliatory tone. She wasn’t necessarily remorseful about the June 3 meeting and she just wouldn’t commit to any action items. After a two hour meeting, we just realized we weren’t really getting anywhere and it didn’t make sense to continue to waste any of the other participants on the call’s time. We essentially decided we don’t have faith she’s going to be able to move the party forward, but we’re going to continue to do the work that we need to do in order to have leadership that reflects the ideals of the Democratic Party.”
“The Affirmative Action Committee attempted to reason with Belinda and unfortunately she really didn’t see anything wrong with the meeting,” Felix said. “She didn’t think there was any need to apologize or for there to be any type of reconciliatory talks. She was asked to resign, she refused to resign.”
The items brought by the Affirmative Action Committee included the recension of the plan passed with no input from the nine diversity caucuses, more representation in the state executive committee, following the “six basic elements of an open party” established by the national Democratic Party,
“We asked her to show her commitment to diversity and inclusion, and she said what she would commit to do was to bring it back to the committee. She couldn’t guarantee if they would vote and pass it. It was just another situation where people of color feel as though they’re coming hat-in-hand and saying ‘hey can you include us’ and ‘hey can we have a seat at the table’ and I think at this point, I don’t know if there’s a path forward with that type of leadership.”
The list also included a new parliamentarian for the executive committee meetings.
“We also wanted an independent and impartial parliamentarian because part of the issue we experienced the night of the June 3 meeting was that the parliamentarian failed to rule on points of order,” Felix explained. “There were incidents where the parliamentarian ruled incorrectly. The party itself violated the bylaws of the West Virginia Democratic Party. They violated the charter. They also violated Robert’s rules of order and some of the DNC party bylaws.”
Felix expressed frustration with the party’s current leadership, and expressed skepticism in its asking for more support from people of color.
“We have a leader that’s unwilling to listen, unwilling to compromise, and is unable to work with underrepresented people,” Felix said. “[She] essentially told people of color they weren’t really welcome and that’s unfortunate considering that we have been loyal and supportive of Democratic candidates and continue to lend our support to the party. I don’t know how much more we could do to ask people of color to support candidates like that, that aren’t willing to speak up and speak out and make the necessary changes.”
Thorp hopes the party at-large will be able to bring in a wider tent of voters, but noted that instead of “fixing” the Democratic Party, the efforts of grassroots reformers should take action to create a new way of building political unity, rather than the party continuing to do what it has done in past years.
“If you’ve got a bicycle wheel and you’re riding along and somebody rams into you and it breaks the spokes in the wheel,” explained Thorp. “It deforms the wheel. So you can’t even fix those spokes, you have to replace the tire. Nine times out of ten you have to replace the whole thing to make it whole and complete again because you can’t bend them into the original shape. That’s the kind of integrity I’m talking about. The Democratic Party is so operating out of integry with its bylaws that they set up that you can’t help having anything but this wobbly disastrous situation that it’s in.”
Attempts by The West Virginia Daily News to speak with Biafore were not returned.