Feb 24, 2022 - Politics

Scoop: Texas Dems chair calls on party leader to resign after racist comment

Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa speaks at a rally at the Capitol on June 20, 2021. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Texas Democratic Party leader Gilberto Hinojosa told Axios on Wednesday that a member of the party's executive committee should resign, weeks after she described an event location as on "the chocolate side of town."

Why it matters: It's the first time Hinojosa, or the party, has publicly addressed the comment by Nancy Nichols, a member of the state Democratic Executive Committee from East Texas.

  • "This is not a person that we want to be a part of our party, and I think she should resign from the executive committee," Hinojosa said, adding that he has not asked Nichols directly to resign as he gathers more information.
  • Her comment "is a stain on our party," he noted.

The big picture: Nichols' comment came on a Feb. 8 call with Democratic county chairs when she mentioned a Tyler campaign event for gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke.

  • "We had the [T]rumpers at our Beto event today in Tyler," she wrote in the Zoom call chat obtained by Axios. "We had all kinds of quiet security, but basically the event was held on the chocolate side of town & the [T]rumpers drove around, but kept a distance. I believe they were afraid to get out. Good."
  • Of note: Nichols, who is white, represents Senate District 1, where Black residents make up roughly 17% of the population.

What she’s saying: Nichols sent an apology to county chairs and Smith County leaders Wednesday evening, shortly after speaking to Axios about her earlier remarks. She said she has not received a personal call from any member of the party, including Hinojosa, asking for her resignation.

  • "While I don't understand many things 100%, I am learning more and more each day and pledge to learn from this mistake and never make it again," a portion of the apology reads.
  • "I am so sorry that I hurt you, especially the African American community, and all those working for unity. I pray with God's help that I never make such a mistake again."

Party leaders have asked Nichols to sit out of county calls, according to Houston County chair Sharon Berry, who learned of the decision on Wednesday during the group's weekly meeting.

  • Hinojosa said Nichols can't be removed but could resign, or another member could file a grievance, a process that allows the party to "take other actions to sanction her."

Flashback: The Feb. 8 call was business as usual, with county chairs discussing their get-out-the-vote efforts and poll-watcher training.

  • Less than an hour into the call, Nichols wrote her comment in the chat.

"When I was reading it, the first thing that came to mind was I know I'm not reading what I think I'm reading," Galveston County chair Tierrishia Gibson recalled.

  • Berry joined the meeting after receiving multiple messages about Nichols.

The call continued for a while until Berry spoke up: "Can you explain that comment to me? Because I'm very offended."

  • "Ms. Nichols tried to explain herself, and that kind of made it worse," Gibson recalled.
  • Nichols later shared a link to Black History, Freedom & Love - Learn From Black Intellectuals, a MasterClass she referred to after giving her "apologies to everyone."

Nichols appears to be referring to a video in part 1 of the class ("Black love: A love like no other"), in which Cornel West, the famed Black scholar, says he "comes from the chocolate side of Sacramento, California."

  • In the video, West adds: "That's why Black love in the end always spills over on the chocolate side of town, but it has to begin on the chocolate side of town because the last thing we want in the world is Black folk running around loving everybody but Black people."

"I made a comment and used words that I should not have used," Nichols included in her apology to county chairs. "I immediately apologized and I was truly sincere, as I am now."

  • Chris Rosenberg, president of the county chairs, declined to comment Wednesday on the decision to keep Nichols off future calls.

Zoom out: This is not the first time Texas Democrats have faced an issue with a county chair.

  • Gary O'Connor, the Lamar County Democratic Party chair, reportedly used the slur "oreo" to describe U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who is Black.
  • O'Connor apologized and offered to resign, but the local party did not accept his resignation, and he remains in his position.

Local Republican Party chairs in Texas have also faced pressure to resign after sharing racist Facebook posts, including conspiracy theories.

What to watch: Carroll Robinson, chair of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, called on the party to implement bias training after O'Connor’s comment last year.

  • "I wish the Democratic Party had moved faster," Robinson said, adding that a line item in the party's upcoming budget is expected to include bias training. "We need to start training the party leadership to remind them that this talk about diversity and inclusion can't just be about talk."

The bottom line: Nichols' comment reflects broader divisions between the young Black and Latino voters that Democrats are aching to drive out to the polls and some party leadership.

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