When state legislators go rogue

Published 11:56 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

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We all are old enough to remember at least once in our lives when someone said something really awful, aloud and in front of peers, thinking they would like it because they all felt the same way.

Keith Kidwell and Jeff McNeely expressed racist and misogynistic views about people who were present in recent House debates. They said these things aloud in front of a large group of people because they felt comfortable doing so, and therein lies the real, unspoken sin.

Kidwell and McNeely are two men from whom we might reasonably expect good conduct because they are, after all, holding spaces reserved for statesmen. We have a right to expect a higher quality. Why? Because they are state legislators elected to represent all the people in their districts. They are in positions of trust.

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Instead, Rep. Kidwell of Beaufort County turned during a debate on the House floor and suggested a female legislator might be a satanic cult follower after the lawmaker told her personal story of having to have an abortion. Kidwell said perhaps she had been raised in the Church of Satan. Rep. McNeely of Iredell County, in a separate debate over school vouchers, questioned whether a Black lawmaker would have gotten into Harvard University were he not both a minority and an athlete.

Both Kidwell and McNeely were reprimanded by their bosses.

But here’s the thing we should not lose sight of. They felt comfortable saying these bad, hateful things because they knew they were not alone in their thoughts. They knew other state legislators shared their repugnant feelings. I hope none of our local legislators do.

No surprise, but Kidwell isn’t a model legislator by any measuring stick. He’s noteworthy for introducing a bill that would force the state to provide free gasoline or diesel anytime someone pulls into a state visitors center or rest stop and plugs in their electric vehicle. Kidwell’s idea was silly sophomoric stuff, nothing more than pandering to the anti-EV crowd.

He is, after all, a devoted member of the Oath Keepers. You’ve probably read about them. They led the charge during the insurrection on January 6, 2021, that overtook our nation’s Capitol. Several of the group’s criminal ringleaders have been convicted and sentenced to long terms behind bars.

The Oath Keepers, which counted Kidwell as one of its paying members, is a far-right, extremist group that encourages its members to disobey orders which they BELIEVE would violate the U.S. Constitution. Kidwell has never denied he is a member, saying it’s nobody’s business. Nearly 140 police officers were injured trying to protect our nation’s Capitol from the Oath Keepers and their followers intent on overthrowing the government.

Kidwell is a 61-year-old Oath Keeper, a state legislator, an insurance salesman, member of the Knights of Columbus and a parishioner at Mother of Mercy Catholic Church.

But a resume does not the man make. He is the words he speaks, or fails to speak.


Larry McDermott is a local farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com