Character and competence

Published December 2, 2021

By Thomas Mills

Yesterday, Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, announced she’s stepping down. She’s been with the department since Cooper’s first term began and she stayed through a pandemic. She also received compliments from both sides of the aisle. She did a great job under difficult circumstances. 

Cooper immediately announced her replacement, Deputy Secretary Kody Kinsley. Kinsley has been around government operations for a long time, serving in both the Obama and Trump administrations. He’s been with DHHS since 2018 and has the confidence of Cohen to run the department. He would also be the first openly gay cabinet secretary in North Carolina history. He’s got big shoes to follow and I wish him the best, for his sake and ours.

Cooper appointing a gay man to lead what is arguably the most important department in the state and inarguably the largest agency in state government is a stark contrast to Mark Robinson calling gay people “filth.” Cooper’s appointment sends a loud message that the Democratic Party, or at least his administration, rejects intolerance. Republicans, on the other hand, have made it clear that bigotry and intolerance are part of who they are. 

 Earlier this week, state Senator Julie Mayfield, a Democrat from Asheville, called out intolerance on the floor of the Senate, pointing out that, during Jim Crow, politicians’ rhetoric helped create the atmosphere that encouraged and tolerated lynching. Robinson took offense and, after session, loudly berated Mayfield in the halls of the legislature. No prominent Republicans have rebuked Robinson for his comments or behavior, giving the impression that discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT community are acceptable in the GOP. 

With acceptance of people like Robinson as leaders of their party, Republicans have clearly lost any moral high ground. However, they may not have lost many voters. On the contrary, they may pick up some. 

 Robinson has already indicated that he’s running for governor in 2024. I would hope that his bigotry would be disqualifying, but I’m scared that it’s not. It will certainly not hurt him in the GOP primary. On the contrary, it will almost certainly help him, because that’s who Republicans are. At the worst they believe prejudice is an asset, and at best they believe it’s distasteful but acceptable. He’s like Trump. His most reprehensible behavior animates and motivates the base while formerly responsible Republicans pretend that liberals and media are blowing it out of proportion. 

Cooper has left no question where Democrats stand. And Robinson has left no question about who he is. In 2024, if Robinson is the GOP nominee, and at this point he’s the frontrunner, voters will have a clear choice about the character they want in their chief executive. I just hope those in the middle will stand against bigotry.