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The complex significance of Mark Robinsonís historic win for NC
First Black Lt. Gov.-elect campaigned on far right
Published Thursday, November 12, 2020
by Kristen Johnson | The Charlotte Post

Lt. Gov.-elect Mark Robinson, the first Black North Carolinian elected to the post, campaigned on a right-wing platform that ran counter to the political mainstream of the state's African American voters.

Mark Robinson stood in front of an American flag the night of Nov. 3 to discuss his historic win as North Carolina’s first Black lieutenant governor-elect with media.

The Republican first-time candidate and former furniture worker from Greensboro won 51% of the vote against Democratic challenger state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley with support from the state GOP and a hefty base of social media followers. Robinson is physically imposing, and his booming voice resonates as he talked about goals, which include more funding for law enforcement and supporting school choice.

“We’re happy to make history and we’re happy to be making it for the Republican Party,” Robinson told WFMY-TV. “Very first things I want to take on is increase care of our veterans in our state, supporting law enforcement in this state, and working with the state school board to try to shore up our schools.”

Robinson’s campaign did not respond to multiple interview requests by The Post.

As a Black Republican who openly embraces controversial right-wing ideologies, Robinson belongs to the small minority of African American neoconservatives in the age of President Donald Trump who believe making American great again doesn’t necessarily mean addressing systemic issues that divide the country.

"The North Carolina Republican Party is excited that Mark Robinson won the election for Lieutenant Governor,” NCGOP Press Secretary Tim Wigginton told The Post in an email. “Lieutenant Governor-Elect Robinson will bring strong conservative leadership that North Carolina desperately needs, and we cannot wait to see what great things he will accomplish while in office."

As the country confronts a racial reckoning with protests amid a deadly pandemic that has decimated the economy, Black voters were considered a crucial demographic Democrats hoped would help ignite a blue wave across the country. Black conservatives, on the other hand, stand on the fringes of the African American political and social mainstream, confirming the narrative that African Americans are not a monolith.

While Black Republicans have always been active in state and local politics, the majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates like Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and down-ballot contenders who favor Medicaid expansion, education reforms, and addressing racial inequality. Robinson has pledged to work with Cooper, who was re-elected to a second term.

About 900,000 of the state’s 1.5 million Black voters cast ballots early in the general election, with the majority going to Democrats, who make up the majority of registered voters, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.  While the presidential race between Trump and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is still too close to call, 92% of the state’s Black voters backed Biden compared to 6% for Trump.

This year, more Black candidates – especially women – ran for Council of State offices and judicial seats, including Jessica Holmes for labor commissioner and Cheri Beasley for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Holmes lost; Beasley is in a tight race that’s too close to call.

Still, Black conservatives like Danielle Robinson believe African Americans support the Democratic Party in error. Robinson sees the Republican Party as a better option and leads North Carolina’s “Blexit,” or Black exit, initiative to think “more freely” and support the GOP.

“It’s very disheartening to see that the moment you do not fit, for Black people, another box they turn on you,” said Danielle Robinson, a board member of the North Carolina Black Conservative Voices coalition. She is not related to Mark Robinson. “And it almost feels like they would side with what has affectionately become a white ally over their own Black brothers and sisters who simply believe that success for our people can come from better policies which right now are on the Republican platform.”
Those policies include religious freedom, fiscal responsibility, and school choice, an idea that critics say would strip more state funding from underperforming public schools.

“We want the best for our communities, we want to see our families whole, we want to see us upwardly mobile,” said Danielle Robinson, a Brooklyn native. “Mark Robinson got into this with a commitment to values. I think he’s going to be great in this position because he’s going to continue to fight hard and speak up for those values.”

Black Americans began to shift their support to the Democratic Party in 1936 under the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was cemented during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s with the election of John F. Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon Johnson and the Republican Party has tried, and failed, to win them over since.

No Republican presidential candidate has won more than 15% of the Black vote since Richard Nixon in 1960.

“The real pivot point was in the 1972 presidential campaign,” said UNC Charlotte political science professor Eric Heberlig. “Richard Nixon developed what was called the Southern Strategy. They found issues that would tap into racial resentment without explicitly making racial appeals, so they talked about school busing, they talked about crime in cities, they talked about welfare queens. They’re issues that trigger many racial stereotypes.”

The Southern Strategy perfected by Nixon and crafted in 1964 by Republican presidential contender Barry Goldwater attracted white voters by appealing to racial and social attitudes that can be found in today’s GOP.

“It’s hard to both mobilize whites based on racial resentment and appeal to the targets of racial resentment at the same time,” said Heberlig. “The way Republicans have tried to do that is mostly through social issues like abortion and homosexuality since many African Americans are conservative on those issues. The challenge is if civil rights type issues are the higher priority and economic issues are a higher priority for African American voters, those two are more aligned with the Democratic Party.”

University of Florida political science professor Sharon Wright Austin agreed.

“Despite their membership in the Democratic Party, Black voters have a tendency to think right, but vote left,” she said. “They have conservative views on some topics because of the influence of religion in their lives, but they vote for liberal candidates who have progressive views on social and racial issues.”

Before his run for lieutenant governor, Robinson gained recognition with a viral video recorded at a Greensboro City Council meeting of him defending his right to bear arms. He has also been active on Facebook and posted negative comments about the Obama family, calling former first lady Michelle Obama “a man” and accusing former President Barack Obama of turning the country into a “socialist hell hole.”

Robinson also made comments claiming homosexuality is “the end of civilization as we know it” and referred to Black Democrats as “slaves.”

“I don’t back up from them one bit,” he told WRAL.

Former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton, the first Black women elected to Congress from North Carolina, isn’t impressed by Robinson’s win as a significant political event.

“Just being black isn’t sufficient for me to rejoice in that,” said Clayton, a Johnson C. Smith University graduate who served five terms in Congress. “I can’t deny that Mr. Robinson has made a historical mark, the significance of that mark is doubtful.”

Clayton, a Democrat, backed Holley, a four-term state lawmaker she considered a stronger candidate and more equipped with a plan to unite North Carolinians.

“I looked at her for what she stood for,” Clayton said. “She wanted to bring people together, she wanted to advance education, she wanted to advance employment. She also understood that there was systemic racism. [Robinson] denies that. He doesn't see that he has to work to improve equality.”

Robinson doesn't see it that way.

“There’s no way that if this was a racist nation that a Black man can be standing here right now as lieutenant governor of North Carolina,” he told reporters. “There’s no way.”

Kristen Johnson is an Election SOS fellow.


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