By Catherine Pugh, Special to the AFRO
Rep. Billy Mitchell, from Georgia’s 88th District, will soon leave his role as president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.Rep. Billy Mitchell from the state of Georgia’s 88th District, is the outgoing president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL). He has served as its 14th president. Rep. Laura Hall will assume his post at the end of this month as the 15th president of NBCSL.
In a question-and-answer session President Mitchell reflected on his visit to Maryland, his accomplishments, and the future of Democrats in America.
AFRO: You visited Maryland during the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Gala– give us your thoughts?
First, let me say that Maryland is probably the envy of the nation, at least among communities of color.
Your leadership in Maryland reflects more of where the country is going in terms of population and race. I had a great time at the Maryland Black Caucus event. I got to meet your new Gov. Wes Moore, who is the only Black governor in our country. I met your Attorney General Anthony Brown, who is also among the few Black state Attorneys General in the country. I also met and chatted with your Speaker of the House, Adrienne Jones. I must also add you have, I believe the largest population of Black state legislators in the country at 60 plus–I think it is 66. I must tell you, that they are already talking about your governor as a candidate for president, I would think in 2028. We wish we could get half the things done in our state of Georgia that your legislature gets done in Maryland.
AFRO: As president of the NBCSL, what do you consider your major accomplishments?
Under my administration we began to look at these bias and racist election laws being proposed in states throughout this country. What we found was that we did not have the support system that is provided to conservative state legislators by organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation. I was able to do a comparison of the biased election laws they were trying to pass in Georgia, Texas and 40 other states. I can tell you that the language was the same, the talking points were the same, and the messaging was the same–they peddled their points of view across the country.
My response, as president, was to create our own Public Policy Institute so Black legislators and those committed to diversity and equality in this country can come to us and we will provide them support through research, talking points, legislation and messaging to combat these attacks on our constitution.
The other accomplishment I want to mention is reactivating our International committee, which honored the president of Uganda in 2021 and the president of Jamaica this past December. Both countries want to encourage Black people to do business in their countries and are looking for corporate companies to consider locating in their country. Through our corporate roundtable efforts, the president of Uganda is talking with Amazon about locating a distribution center there.
AFRO: How do you think President Biden is doing?
I think he is doing an incredible job. Let me say for full disclosure, I received a phone call from then-Congressman Cedric Richmond, a former state legislator who asked me to endorse Biden as I was the incoming president of NBCSL. I told Cedrick to have then-candidate Biden to call me. He said he would do better than that. They both came to Atlanta two weeks later and I listened to Biden, and was impressed.
I endorsed him then and would endorse him again. Forty other state legislators also endorsed him. He has appointed more Black federal judges than all the presidents put together. There would not be a Ketanji Brown on the Supreme Court if not for him. The Rescue Bill, the bi-partisan infrastructure legislation, the inflation R\reduction Act and the science and technology legislation all are among President Biden’s accomplishments.
AFRO: What does Biden need to focus on prior to the election of 2024?
He needs to aggressively promote what he has done. Almost every state has drawn down money from the bi-partisan infrastructure bill– including Maryland and Georgia. This is money not coming from state coffers but from the federal government.
In Republican states controlled by Republican governors you will see the monies going towards roads and bridges. There is so much more being done that we are not hearing about.
Further he needs to get the tuition reimbursement bill across the finish line. That will impact a lot of families across the nation. He has some appointments including ambassadors that he needs to complete. He wins on the environment. What we did at NBCSL at our conference this year, I believe, will help–that is pass a resolution asking state legislators to create oversight structures and executive orders to assure that federal dollars being made available are going to their communities and to assure that the intent of Biden’s Justice 40 is met. Climate change is real and we must focus if we want a better environment for future generations.
AFRO: What do you think of what is going on with leadership in Washington, D.C.?
It is historical in every way. Never in the history of the Republican Party, that now is supposed to control the House by a small majority, has there been this much chaos. Today they are up to five votes and McCarthy can’t get the votes he needs to be speaker. Even if he does eventually win, he won’t be able to– in my opinion– maintain control.
In contrast, the minority leader Congressman Hakeem Jefferies of New York, has achieved something that has never happened before in the Democratic Party Leadership and that is to come into leadership with a unanimous vote. Jefferies superseded Nancy Pelosi, considered one of the greatest house leaders of all time in capturing votes. The joke among Republicans is perhaps they should vote for him as majority leader. Of course, we know that won’t happen. Many of them couldn’t go back home and get elected if such a vote was cast (he laughs).
AFRO: What are your thoughts on Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries?
He was a state legislator from 2006 to 2012 before going to congress. I’ve talked with him during this term as NBCSL president. He is very thoughtful and methodical. His goal will be to return the house back to Democratic Leadership in 2024 and I think he is up for that challenge. I believe he too will be a presidential candidate in 2028.
AFRO: I must ask you this since you are from Georgia, will Stacy Abrams run again for governor of your state?
I believe she would be the front runner if she does try a third time. There is a stigma when you have lost two times for the same office, however I think she could do it. It is hard to unseat an incumbent governor. In 2028, she would not be running against an incumbent. She only lost by five percent of the vote and 15 percent of Democrats in Georgia stayed home. I would endorse her!