Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, one of just a handful of nonwhite faces in the Vermont House of Representatives, has announced she’s not seeking a third term in office—shortly after securing a place on the ballot in November.
The move came after Morris reported that she and her family were repeatedly targeted by racist threats and harassment.
The lawmaker has not yet responded to necn’s request for an interview.
Morris wrote on Facebook, “Political discourse, and in particular within the sphere of social media has been divisive, inflammatory and at times, even dangerous.”
Earlier this month on Twitter, Morris wrote, “People of color are being terrorized in this state by those who espouse white supremacist ideals and pathologies every day.”
Attorney General T.J. Donovan, D-Vermont, opened a criminal investigation.
“Given what’s been going on in our politics—in our political system—it’s unfortunate that people think it’s okay to threaten people online,” Donovan said Tuesday. “It’s not. It’s a crime, and we take it seriously.”
Donovan added that he respects people’s freedom of speech to criticize the operations of government, but said there is a line that can be crossed where language can become criminal threats—and that’s what is being investigated.
Mark Hughes of the group Justice For All was disappointed to hear about Morris’s experiences, but was not surprised, he said.
Hughes told necn that systemic racism remains a problem in Vermont.
“From housing to education, to employment, to health services access, to economic development, and indeed, the criminal justice system, there are disparities dealt to all the 10,000 or so people of color across the state on a daily basis,” Hughes said.
“It’s a huge loss,” Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P/D-Winooski, said of Morris’s decision not to seek re-election.
Gonzalez has worked closely with Morris, especially on issues facing minorities and women, and said she hopes all Vermonters will be willing to help drive out attitudes that exclude their neighbors.
“We get racist messages all the time, and if we don’t actually think about them—if we don’t actually engage with them—we just accidentally perpetuate them,” Gonzalez said.
In her statement on Facebook, Morris said she would serve out the rest of term. The lawmaker thanked her supporters and hinted she may return to politics or public service, saying there’s a lot of work to do, and that she wants to be a part of making Vermont stronger.
Morris’s withdrawal from her Statehouse re-election bid drew a response Tuesday from the other side of the political aisle: from Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.
“We should be much further ahead than we are as a nation in terms of acceptance and tolerance, whether it’s sexual orientation, or gender, or race—and we aren’t,” Scott said. “We should be better.”
Scott lamented a nasty tone in politics today and indicated the decision by Morris is just the latest example of why the polarization in the country needs to be dramatically reversed.
Gonzalez pointed to some progress in Vermont: following an act of the Legislature, the state is currently working toward establishing a high-level state position that will focus on issues of race.
Morris’s announcement means Bennington County Democrats will put forward a new candidate for the election in November.