RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Two members of the North Carolina House who came under criticism last week for their comments and actions have resigned from leadership positions within the Republican caucus.
Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) and Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) on Thursday relinquished their deputy whip positions, to which they had been appointed by House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne), after both men were rebuked on the House floor last week.
“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. “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.”
Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the longtime House whip, did not respond immediately to a text message from WGHP seeking his comment. Neither Kidwell nor McNeely has commented on having resigned.
McNeely, who has represented House District 84 since 2020, got into hot water during the debate last week when the House voted to pass expanded school vouchers in House Bill 823.
Rep. Abe Jones (D-Durham), a former judge and a Black man, was speaking against the bill and asking, “Why drag public money away from public schools?”
McNeely interrupted Jones with a question: “I know you went to public schools and to Harvard and to Harvard Law. Could you have achieved this if you were not an athlete or a minority?”
This drew a loud response from the members, and Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Randolph), the Democratic House leader, arose in outrage to object and to ask McNeely if he had said what he thought he had heard. Jones gracefully responded about his success at Harvard, which drew a standing ovation.
At the end of the session, McNeely recognized his misstatement. “I deeply apologize to Rep. Jones and to this entire body,” he said. “I respect Rep. Jones. I think he’s a great legislator and a great man. What I tried to ask didn’t come out right. I will apologize [in person] to Rep. Jones.”
Jones later said he accepted that apology.
It’s unclear what might have happened since that session, but it had followed another powerful rebuke from Reives about what another member had said in front of reporters following the House’s vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the new abortion bill.
That member had suggested Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams (D-Cabarrus) has been a member of the “Church of Satan” because of her comments about having had an abortion.
Staton-Williams had emotionally recounted how she found she was unexpectedly pregnant while already a mother and decided with her husband to have an abortion. She said she had “grown up in the church” and understood “trials and tribulations.”
That member turned out to be Kidwell, who made them in the back of the chamber after the session had concluded but with reporters present.
Reives made a long and impassioned speech on the House floor and later released a statement.
“I feel compelled to speak out when members of our caucus are targeted with unfair, untrue or hurtful remarks – especially when said by members of the Majority on the floor of the House,” he said. “This is a deliberative body. We should conduct ourselves appropriately and with respect for every member of this House.”
Staton-Williams said in that same statement that she takes her “religious beliefs seriously, and it is unfortunate for someone to question my faith – especially another member of this chamber – when it doesn’t align with his.”
Kidwell, who has represented District 79 since 2018, is known as one of the most conservative members of the House. He leads the far-right Freedom Caucus and sometimes wears a lapel pin of an automatic rifle in support of Second Amendment rights. He was the sponsor of House Bill 533, which would have banned almost all abortions.
He also is on the membership list of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group whose leaders were scheduled to be sentenced for seditious conspiracy for organizing the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
McNeely is chair of the House Agriculture Committee and serves on Appropriations, Environment, Oversight and Reform and Transportation. Kidwell is senior chair of the Finance Committee and serves on Agriculture, Banking, Environment, Finance, Judiciary3, Marine Resources and Aquaculture and Regulatory Reform committees.