Joe Manchin Silent as West Virginia Democrats Ram Through Affirmative Action Plan Without Consulting Black Leadership

“Why are white people drafting a plan for Hispanics and Black people?” WV Dems member Susan Miley shot back in a wild June 3rd meeting

The June 3rd West Virginia State Executive Committee meeting started off well enough. State party chairwoman Belinda Biafore, a close ally of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, introduced two new members to the executive committee: Hollis Lewis and Mary Thorp.

Lewis and Thorp also serve as co-chairs for the newly formed state Affirmative Action Committee [AAC].

“I’m so excited to be here, this is historic, and I think what we’re doing now is moving this party, and eventually we’re going to move this state in the right direction,” Lewis, an African American, said when introduced.

The introductions were 46 years in the making. In 1974, the DNC’s charter directed all state parties to create an affirmative action program. But West Virginia Democrats never did so, only conceding in March to activists and progressive party members’ pressure for the state party to follow the DNC’s directive from decades ago and form an affirmative action committee.

Preceding the executive committee meeting was the first meeting of the AAC on June 2nd. Multiple sources told Status Coup that after the state party by-laws were changed on March 15th to begin the process of forming the AAC—with a deadline two months later—chairwoman Biafore sat on her hands. Biafore expedited the process only after a state party member sent her a frustrated email on April 30th—with DNC chair Jaime Harrison and other national DNC members copied—about the lack of action on the formation of the AAC and other diversity committees.

Over an hour later, the state party sent out an email announcing details of the AAC, including how co-chairs and at-large members will be selected.

At the June 2nd AAC meeting, Biafore presented AAC members with an affirmative action plan that was constructed with no input from the AAC; a violation of Section B, Article 8 of state party by-laws which stipulates the AAC will draft the affirmative action plan to then be voted on by the executive committee.

The AAC unanimously rejected the plan.

“She ignored it as if it did not exist,” AAC co-chair Mary Thorp told Status Coup about chairwoman Biafore’s response to the AAC rejecting the plan. “It was never mentioned by her.”

Following the AAC rejecting Biafore’s plan, the state executive committee held a meeting the next day that was aired live on YouTube. The key agenda item was a vote on the affirmative action plan. At the beginning of the June 3rd Zoom meeting, Biafore set the tone by blocking the six at-large members of the AAC—two of whom are African American—from joining the meeting, explaining that the six at-large AAC members would be let into the meeting after the vote on the affirmative action plan, thus eliminating the chance for their objections to the affirmative action plan.

“To me, it was just very dismissive; the party itself waited 46 years in order to implement this and now after these 46 years you can’t then turn around and say ‘well we know what’s best and we’re going to write this for you,’” AAC co-chair Hollis told Status Coup.

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When chairwoman Biafore tried to proceed to vote on the plan with the at-large members still blocked from entering the meeting, AAC co-chair Thorp tried to interject.

She was met with angry pushback from Biafore.

“Excuse me, I’m talking about what the plan is about,” the chairwoman shot back.

Thorp was shocked by Biafore’s heavy-handed attempt to pass an affirmative action plan without input from AAC members.

“I don’t know anybody that can watch that who wouldn’t be shocked out of their mind,” Thorp told Status Coup, adding that Biafore’s actions exuded arrogance. “It matches up with all the stuff that Joe Manchin is doing, it’s like ‘what is he doing this for?’ He keeps saying he’s doing it for the people of West Virginia—what people of West Virginia?”

As Biafore ignored Thorp’s objection, she claimed that the passage of the plan already unanimously rejected by the AAC would not preclude AAC members from making amendments to the plan in the future. She then called for a vote.

Pushback erupted among white and minority executive committee members.

“It defeats the purpose of having an affirmative action committee if they don’t have input on the affirmative action plan,” state party member Walt Auvil objected.

But Biafore held fast to keeping the six at-large AAC members out of the meeting until the vote on the affirmative action plan.

“We don’t know who these people are,” party member Teddie Grogan, another white woman, said in support of Biafore. She requested biographies for the AAC members to learn “what they bring to the table” for the committee.

Susan Miley, a Latina state party member, responded with disgust.

“I can’t even comprehend us not seating the members of an affirmative action committee prior to voting on the affirmative action plan when they’re the ones that are supposed to be creating the affirmative action plan…I think it looks so horribly bad,” Miley said.

After another executive committee member supported chairwoman Biafore’s desire to vote on the affirmative action plan without the AAC members in the meeting, Miley angrily shot back: “Why are white people drafting a plan for Hispanics and Black people?”

AAC co-chair Hollis Lewis expressed his outrage that the AAC had no input on the plan.

“You can’t draft something on behalf of us,” he said.

Lewis said the meeting’s attempt to signal diversity while blocking input from minority voices on an affirmative action plan is part of a wider pattern of the state party straddling the line between messaging on diversity while not alienating Republican voters.

“We’re the Democratic Party, right? Not to say we don’t care about what Republicans think but I don’t think we can serve two masters,” Lewis said, adding that there’s currently a battle between the moderate to conservative wing of the Democratic Party versus a newer, younger Democratic Party presenting new ideas.

As the contentious executive committee meeting went on, party members who were fiercely objecting to AAC members being blocked from the meeting were finding their Zoom microphones muted.

“Why am I constantly being muted?” Walt Auvil asked.

AAC co-chair Thorp pointed out that the six at-large members have been relegated to the Zoom waiting room throughout the meeting.

“If that isn’t discrimination, I don’t know what is,” Thorp said.

Chairwoman Biafore shot back that the affirmative action plan has to pass during the meeting as the deadline to submit to the DNC was the next day.

“That’s the way it has to work,” Biafore snapped back after AAC co-chair Thorp said that’s not how it works. Biafore then doubled down on insisting this was simply a draft of the affirmative action plan and it wasn’t binding.

Finally, 56 minutes into the two-hour meeting, dissenting state party members finally forced a change to the meeting agenda that would allow the locked out at-large members to join the meeting before the vote on the affirmative action plan.

But once the locked out at-large members had finally been let into the meeting, the majority of their Zoom mics were muted without them having the ability to unmute themselves.

“I hope you all know how ridiculous we look to everyone watching on YouTube; this is the party we love so much—are you freaking kidding me?” a meeting participant off-screen said.

The meeting moved on to a motion on whether to table the vote on the affirmative action meeting; a motion that failed.

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After a wildly contentious meeting, the end served as the most jarring.

After a white member was allowed to submit an amendment to the affirmative action plan that would make the plan stipulate that it is an early draft, Mary Ann Claytor, an African American, attempted to submit an amendment, pointing out that she kept having her microphone muted.

But Biafore shut her down: “We’ve discussed this round and round, Nick moved that we put it to a vote, so that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Claytor responded, “Ok so that means we don’t have any voice in this, I don’t even know why you guys have a caucus [Black caucus].”

“As a Black American, this is a slap in the face! As a Black West Virginian this is a slap in the face,” AAC co-chair Lewis shouted.

The West Virginia State Democratic Party, Senator Joe Manchin, and the DNC did not respond to requests for comment from Status Coup.

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-Jordan Chariton

The full June 3rd West Virginia Democrats executive committee meeting below: