Yes, I called my fellow Black Kansas lawmaker a ‘house Negro.’ And I regret nothing | Opinion

I am an engineer by training, which means I focus on making processes and systems operate more efficiently. My challenge as a new Kansas state representative involves applying engineering principles to how our Legislature has been hijacked to serve monied interests.

So if you’ve followed the Kansas Legislature’s hijinks this session, then you have a sense for the challenges my training poses for me as I try to serve my constituents. In short, the status quo is unacceptable. Our system isn’t broken — it’s designed this way. And if we want a system that actually serves us, then we have to upset, object and intervene whenever necessary.

That’s why I spoke so forcefully about never wanting to be viewed as the kind of legislator who’d betray his constituents. I regret nothing.

When my dear friend, the late state Rep. Gail Finney, retired and asked me to succeed her, I took that seriously. I may wear a men’s size 13, but it’ll be a long time before I fill her shoes. But what I will not do is fall silent when I see something wrong. I owe that to Gail and to my constituents.

Things aren’t running smoothly.

We spent the bulk of the previous session debating issues of human sexuality — issues that while important to many people, aren’t priorities for most struggling Kansans. Republicans, who control what comes to the floor, continued to push a false narrative on election security and stepped up their attacks on public education and on voting rights.

Legislators in both parties are fed up with distractions and the distortions and the gaslighting. I see the needs in my district. I see the inequality in the lack of grocery stores and the dearth of wide-scale entrepreneurship. People need work. People need answers from the child welfare system. People need to know that when cancer-causing chemicals are contained in the groundwater, the information will be swiftly shared with the residents in the affected areas. People need relief from an oppressive justice system.

So, when my fellow Democratic caucus member, state Rep. Marvin Robinson — someone supposedly upholding the shared values of the Democratic Party — voted against his constituents’ needs for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or Medicaid expansion, and supported voting suppression measures, this was problematic. These types of issues aren’t new when it comes to our Black elected officials. That’s the elephant in the room that normally no one is willing to mention.

We in the Black community know that there is a history of what we would term “sellout” behavior. It’s time that we call a thing a thing, and we can’t afford to let it continue. The sacrificing of the many, in exchange for the fame or fortune of one.

I spoke up.

“What I wouldn’t trade would be a vote for something like the James Crow Esquire version of critical race theory, nor would I sacrifice the vote for Medicaid expansion, nor would I sacrifice the vote of those SNAP benefits,” I said. “I would never trade my vote so that … people in my neighborhood, my constituents … would never have the opportunity to look at me and think that I might be one of those house Negroes.”

The Kansas City Star’s editorial board said I went too far, but what we didn’t hear from the board was anything about how Rep. Robinson’s constituents were harmed by his myopic political calculations. The board had more sympathy for Robinson’s feelings than for the needs of his betrayed constituents.

Ford Carr represents District 84 in the Kansas House of Representatives.