AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyAmtrak Wants to Expand Across the Nation. Local Politics Might Intervene.Extending nationwide service has been an elusive goal for Amtrak. Since 1971 — when the publicly funded, privately operated rail agency was created — routes have largely remained unchanged.Since 1971 — when the publicly funded, privately operated rail agency was created — Amtrak’s rail routes it offers to customers has largely remained unchanged.Credit…Shannon Stapleton/ReutersPublished
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'Dripping in the blood of Jim Crow': Voting rights groups say GOP-backed bills in Georgia target Black voters
Their efforts, however, could be reversed by Republican-backed bills advancing in the Georgia Legislature that activists say are reminiscent of tactics used to prevent Black people from voting in the South during the Jim Crow era.
“We know that their targets are Black voters,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Atlanta-based Black Voters Matter. “These (legislation) notes are dripping in the blood of Jim Crow.”
Black Voters Matter, the Georgia NAACP, the New Georgia Project and other civil rights groups are now in a battle to protect Black voting power, launching a campaign this week to stop the voter restrictions from moving forward.
They are also demanding that Congress pass federal voting rights legislation that would roll back the state-level laws.
On Wednesday, the House took a step toward that by passing HR 1, also known as the For the People Act, which is a sweeping ethics and election bill that expands voting access.
The controversy over voting rights comes as the civil rights community honors the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” this weekend for the first time without voting rights icon John Lewis, who died last year. Lewis has been lauded as a hero who fought tirelessly for equal voting rights for Black people. Voting rights leaders have vowed to keep his legacy alive.
Georgia’s state House passed a bill this week that includes several measures that restrict voting access, including a ban on automatic voter registration, a limit on Sunday early voting days and ballot drop boxes, and a number of restrictions and ID requirements for absentee voting. The bills come after former President Donald Trump made baseless claims of a rigged 2020 election, saying there had been widespread voter fraud in Georgia.
Albright said the proposals directly target the methods used to mobilize Black voters. He said limiting Sunday early voting, for example, is a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls”– which is a get-out-the-vote campaign led by Black churches. A CNN analysis found that Black voters made up 34.6% of the voters who cast early ballots on the three weekend voting days that could be eliminated under the proposal from Georgia lawmakers
The bill also prohibits free food and drinks from being served to people standing in line to vote. Volunteers often served pizza and chips to voters who stood in line for several hours at predominately Black precincts in the Atlanta area.
“Clearly, the attack is based on when it is and how it is that they know Black voters are being mobilized to turn out,” Albright said. “They know that they can’t win elections if we actually expand access to voting or even if we just maintain it.”
Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, said the Republican-backed measures are a more “sophisticated” version of the Jim Crow practices that prevented Black people from voting. For example, he noted that many Black people were forced to take literacy tests that were impossible to pass in order to vote during the Jim Crow era. Now they are being suppressed with shortened voting hours and limited days, he said.
“I think it certainly does go back to the Jim Crow era because it has a racist tone,” King said. “You’re targeting communities of color, and historically the African American community votes by and large for Democrats.”
A nationwide effort to ‘Protect Our Power’
Some Black voters in Georgia say the measures are discouraging and could impact turnout.
Calvin Payne of Vinings, Georgia, said many Black voters can’t afford to take off work or stand in line for hours to vote, so they need expanded access.
“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Payne said. “When we complicate things, that’s when people say, ‘OK, I don’t need to vote.’ ”
Albright’s Black Voters Matter and other groups are holding rallies, printing statewide advertisements, running phone bank campaigns, and seeking support from businesses and corporations to promote their efforts to halt the state laws from moving forward.
Their campaign has garnered support from the NBA, which is partnering with LeBron James’ More Than A Vote during the All Star events in Atlanta this weekend to raise awareness of how the state proposals suppress Black voters. The group is kicking off a campaign named Protect Our Power, which, in addition to fighting these laws in states, will look to mobilize Black voters in off-year and municipal elections.
The Georgia proposals mirror Republican-backed voting bills that have emerged across the country. As of February, state legislators in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Black lawmakers and leaders vow to protect voting rights
National Urban League President Marc Morial released a statement pleading for the Senate to act on HR 1.
“We have watched in dismay as state lawmakers around the country responded to record turnout among voters of color with aggressive, racially motivated restrictions on voting,” Morial said. “The House of Representatives admirably stood against this anti-democracy movement last night by passing a sweeping expansion of voting rights contained in the For the People Act. Now the Senate must do the same.”
Senate Democrats told reporters Wednesday they were determined to pass legislation to protect voting rights. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia called the Republican-led state measures “undemocratic.”
“We must be clear: It’s not their job as politicians to choose their voters. It’s the job of voters to choose who will represent them,” Warnock said during a virtual roundtable event for Black journalists. “We’ll be working very hard to pass the For the People Act (and) the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore vital voting protections and expand access to the ballot, and we’ll be fighting every day to get this done.”
Georgia NAACP President James Woodall said voting restrictions advancing in the state House are unjust and could potentially be in violation of existing federal voting rights laws. Woodall said his NAACP chapter is prepared to take legal action if necessary.
“We need to create a situation where elections are not only safe, secure and accessible but they are also compliant with federal law,” Woodall said.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Clare Foran and Dan Merica contributed.
AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIn Georgia, Republicans Take Aim at Role of Black Churches in ElectionsNew proposals by the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature have targeted Sunday voting, part of a raft of measures that could reduce the impact of Black voters in the state.Israel Small spent most of last fall helping members of his church with the absentee voting process.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesNick Corasaniti and March 6, 2021SAVANNAH, Ga. — Sundays are always special at the St. Philip Monumental A.M.E. church. But in October, the pews are often more packed, the sermon a bit more urgent and the congregation more animated, and eager for what will follow: piling into church vans and buses — though some prefer to walk — and heading to the polls.Voting after Sunday church services, known colloquially as “souls to the polls,” is a tradition in Black communities across the country, and Pastor Bernard Clarke, a minister since 1991, has marshaled the effort at St. Philip for five years. His sermons on those Sundays, he said, deliver a message of fellowship, responsibility and reverence.“It is an opportunity for us to show our voting rights privilege as well as to fulfill what we know that people have died for, and people have fought for,” Mr. Clarke said.Now, Georgia Republicans are proposing new restrictions on weekend voting that could severely curtail one of the Black church’s central roles in civic engagement and elections. Stung by losses in the presidential race and two Senate contests, the state party is moving quickly to push through these limits and a raft of other measures aimed directly at suppressing the Black turnout that helped Democrats prevail in the critical battleground state.“The only reason you have these bills is because they lost,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees all 534 A.M.E. churches in Georgia. “What makes it even more troubling than that is there is no other way you can describe this other than racism, and we just need to call it what it is.’’The push for new restrictions in Georgia comes amid a national effort by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose harsh restrictions on voting access, in states like Iowa, Arizona and Texas.But the targeting of Sunday voting in new bills that are moving through Georgia’s Legislature has stirred the most passionate reaction, with critics saying it recalls some of the racist voting laws from the state’s past.“I can remember the first time I went to register,” said Diana Harvey Johnson, 74, a former state senator who lives in Savannah. “I went to the courthouse by myself and there was actually a Mason jar sitting on top of the counter. And the woman there asked me how many butterbeans were in that jar,” suggesting that she needed to guess correctly in order to be allowed to register.“I had a better chance of winning the Georgia lottery than guess how many butterbeans,” Ms. Harvey Johnson continued. “But the fact that those kinds of disrespects and demoralizing and dehumanizing practices — poll taxes, lynchings, burning crosses and burning down houses and firing people and putting people in jail, just to keep them from voting — that is not that far away in history. But it looks like some people want to revisit that. And that is absolutely unacceptable.”Diana Harvey Johnson, a former Georgia state senator, said she remembered facing “dehumanizing practices” when registering to vote in her youth.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesThe bill that passed the House would limit voting to at most one Sunday in October, but even that would be up to the discretion of the local registrar. It would also severely cut early voting hours in total, limit voting by mail and greatly restrict the use of drop boxes — all measures that activists say would disproportionately affect Black voters.A similar bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has indicated he supports new laws to “secure the vote” but has not committed to all of the restrictions.Voting rights advocates say there is deep hypocrisy embedded in some of the new proposals. It was Georgia Republicans, they point out, who championed mail balloting in the early 2000s and automatic voting registration just five years ago, only to say they need to be limited now that more Black voters have embraced them.Georgia was one of nine mostly Southern states and scores of counties and municipalities — including the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan — whose records of racist voter suppression required them to get federal clearance for changes to their election rules. The requirement fell under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the civil rights era law that curtailed the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South.The changes Republicans are now pursuing would have faced stiff federal review and possible blockage under the part of the act known as Section 5. But the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, effectively gutted that section in a 2013 ruling.Even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, churches played a key role in civic engagement, often organizing nonpartisan political action committees during the 1970s and ’80s that provided, among other resources, trips to vote on Sunday where it was permitted. The phrase “souls to the polls” took root in Florida in the 1990s, according to David D. Daniels III, a professor of church history at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Raphael Warnock, one of the Democrats who won a special Senate race in January, is himself the pastor of the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.Historically, churches provided Black congregants more than just transportation or logistical help. Voting as a congregation also offered a form of haven from the intimidation and violence that often awaited Black voters at the polls.“That was one of the things that my father said, that once Black people got the right to vote, they would all go together because they knew that there was going to be a problem,” said Robert Evans, 59, a member of St. Phillip Monumental. “Bringing them all together made them feel more comfortable to actually go and do the civic duty.”In Georgia, the role of the A.M.E. church in civic engagement has been growing under the guidance of Bishop Jackson. Last year he began Operation Voter Turnout, seeking to expand the ways that A.M.E. churches could prepare their members to participate in elections. The operation focused on voter education, registration drives, assistance with absentee ballots and a coordinated Sunday voting operation.Bishop Reginald T. Jackson in Atlanta. He began a program to better prepare church members to participate in elections.Credit…Matthew Odom for The New York TimesIt had an impact in last November’s election, even amid the coronavirus pandemic: According to the Center for New Data, a nonprofit research group, African-Americans voted at a higher rate on weekends than voters identifying as white in 107 of the state’s 159 counties. Internal numbers from Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group, found that Black voters made up roughly 37 percent of those who voted early on Sunday in Georgia, while the Black population of Georgia is about 32 percent.State Representative Barry Fleming, a Republican and chief sponsor of the House bill, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did three other Republican sponsors. In introducing the bill, Republicans in the Legislature portrayed the new restrictions as efforts to “secure the vote” and “restore confidence” in the electoral process, but offered no rationale beyond that and no credible evidence that it was flawed. (Georgia’s election was pronounced secure by Republican electoral officials and reaffirmed by multiple audits and court decisions.)Limiting Sunday voting would affect Black voters beyond losing the assistance of the church. It would inevitably lead to longer lines during the week, especially in the Black community, which has historically been underserved on Election Day.The bill would also ban what is known as “line warming,” the practice of having volunteers provide water, snacks, chairs and other assistance to voters in line.Latoya Brannen, 43, worked with members of the church and a nonprofit group called 9 to 5 to hand out snacks and personal protective equipment in November.“We’ve learned that giving people just those small items helps keep them in line,” Ms. Brannen said. She said she had occasionally handed out bubbles to parents who brought young children with them.If Sunday voting is limited, it could induce more Black Georgians to vote by mail. During the pandemic, churches played an instrumental role in helping African-Americans navigate the absentee ballot system, which they had not traditionally used in the same proportion as white voters.At Greater Gaines Chapel A.M.E., a church about a half-mile from St. Philip Monumental, Israel Small spent most of last fall helping church members with the absentee process.“We took people to drop boxes to help make sure it would be counted,” said Mr. Small, 79. He said he was angered to learn this winter that Republicans were moving to restrict mail voting, too.Among the changes Republican state legislators have proposed is a requirement that voters provide proof of their identification — their license numbers or copies of official ID cards — with their absentee ballot applications.That signals a shift for Republicans, who have long controlled the Statehouse; in 2005 they passed a similar proposal, but for in-person voting.Pastor Bernard Clarke of St. Philip Monumental A.M.E. church has marshaled the effort to get his congregation to the polls for five years.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesThat measure included a new “anti-fraud” requirement that voters present one of a limited set of government-issued identification cards, like a driver’s license, at voting stations.The restrictions affected Black voters disproportionately, data showed. At the same time, state Republicans were moving to ease the process of absentee voting — predominantly used by white voters then — by stripping requirements that absentee voters provide an excuse for why they couldn’t vote in person and exempting them from the new photo-identification requirement.Justice Department lawyers reviewed the proposals under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and found that the new ID law would likely make voting disproportionately harder for Black citizens. The attorneys recommended that the George W. Bush administration block it.In a memo that the department’s political leadership ultimately disregarded, staff lawyers noted that a sponsor of the legislation had told them that she believed Black voters were likely to vote only when they were paid to do so, and that if the new law reduced their voting share it was only because it would limit opportunities for fraud.The memo also stated that the law’s sponsors defended the more lenient treatment of mail voting — like its exemption from the ID provision — by arguing that it was more secure than in-person voting because it produced a paper trail.Now, after an election year in which Mr. Trump repeatedly and falsely disparaged mail voting as rife with fraud, state Republicans are arguing that mail-in voting needs more restrictions.There is no new evidence supporting that assertion. But one thing did change in 2020: the increase in Black voters who availed themselves of absentee balloting, helping Democrats to dominate the mail-in ballot results during the presidential election.“It’s just really a sad day,” Mr. Small, from the Greater Gaines church, said. “It’s a very challenging time for all of us, just for the inalienable right to vote that we fought so hard for, and right now, they’re trying to turn back the clock to try to make sure it’s difficult,” he said.Pastor Clarke of St. Philip Monumental said the Republican effort to impose more restrictions could backfire, energizing an already active electorate.“Donald Trump woke us up,” he said. “There are more people in the congregation that are more aware and alert and have a heightened awareness to politics. So while we know that and we believe that his intentions were ill, we can honestly say that he has woken us up. That we will never be the same.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story
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Of all the products made at Danette Wilder’s small manufacturing plant near the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the products she depended on most for sales were the O-rings cranked out by her vintage presses.
Each month, Wilder’s crew of six people, working at long tables as they listened to a soundtrack of funk and R&B, made thousands of the rubber loops, cut from spools into precise strips and spliced into uniform perfect circles.
The work distinguished Wilder’s company, SealingLife Technology, as one of the vanishingly few rubber products suppliers owned by a female engineer — not to mention one who is also Black. It hasn’t been an easy path: Wilder has navigated state and federal set-aside programs, tight-fisted bankers and what she saw as obvious discrimination. But eventually, Wilder built SealingLife into a reliable vendor for all manner of aerospace, medical and other industrial businesses.
Now, SealingLife is struggling to survive as orders for its O-rings have dried up over the past year, plunging the company into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. That’s not an unusual story in the current pandemic-induced recession, which has been a gut punch for millions of small business owners. But Wilder faces obstacles that are disproportionately common among Black-owned companies, which on average had fewer resources to draw upon going into last year, were hit particularly hard by the downturn and were less well-served by the relief programs set up to help.
Danette Wilder in Lexington. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
“We’re in a purgatory state,” Wilder said. “The long term is, if we can’t get our foot in the door with people who understand what we do and how we do it and provide us opportunities to grow, then the outcome is very bleak.’’
There are disparities between American businesses owned by white people and those owned by all minority groups, but the widest ones are typically with Black entrepreneurs, who tend to have modest family wealth and thin professional networks to help recruit talent and cut deals. Although the number of Black-owned businesses has grown in recent years, the vast majority remain sole proprietorships. As of 2012 — the most recent data the Census Bureau has collected — average annual sales for a Black-owned business came to about $58,000, compared to nearly 10 times that amount for the average white-owned enterprise.
Those years of compounding disadvantage have been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, 18.4% fewer self-employed Black people were working in July 2020 than there had been a year previously, compared to 6.2% fewer self-employed white people (the dips for Asian and Hispanic people were even smaller). And minority-owned businesses overall have also been at the back of the line for relief programs, which were initially designed without factoring in the unique challenges of small businesses owned by people of color. As a result, federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses in areas with a higher percentage of minority residents came in later and in lesser amounts per employee.
White-Owned Firms Are More Likely to Meet Criteria for Health and Stability
Note: Healthy firms meet at least two of these criteria: Profitable, high credit score, or use retained business earnings to fund firm. Credit: Source: U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
That’s not new either. Decades of public and private initiatives meant to boost minority-owned businesses have fallen short. Since the 1980s, race-based contracting preferences have been weakened by federal court rulings. Now, the pandemic’s fallout threatens to arrest the nascent progress of a generation of Black entrepreneurs. That would only widen the yawning gap between wealth held by white people and that held by African Americans, which had barely begun to narrow after the last recession in 2009.
Wilder, 50, stands an imposing 6 feet tall, and shows up for a factory tour wearing maroon slacks, loafers, and big blocky glasses. She’s lived through all of those systemic disadvantages that show up in statistics. But she doesn’t want to end up like the averages. She just wants a fair shake.
“Whenever something’s been amputated, you need a recovery period,” Wilder said. “It’s sort of like, when you get behind on something, if there’s nothing to help you recover, nothing really helps.”
Danette Wilder grew up in inner-city Detroit, where her father, with only a few years of formal schooling, had moved to work in a Chrysler plant. She went to Detroit’s Central High School, which at the time had one of the worst graduation rates in the nation.
But Wilder did well in school, and enrolled at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, where her half-sister Gwendolyn Wilder lived. When their brother was murdered in Detroit, the two sisters took over caring for his two infant children. Danette Wilder worked multiple research and development jobs while finishing her degree, then landed an engineering job at Corning Inc., the venerable materials company now famous for making glass iPhone screens. Gwendolyn Wilder, too, got a Corning job, as an executive assistant.
Corning, located in largely white upstate New York, was making a diversity push. But Danette Wilder said she soon learned that she’d been hired at a much lower salary than the other engineering recruits; when she raised the disparity with her bosses, she said, she got nowhere.
Instead, Wilder tried a workaround, getting a side job for a few hours a week at a Toys R Us in Corning, which she knew company employees and executives would frequent. The extra income helped, but she also believes her second job led higher-ups to double her pay. “It caused such an uproar, because people were like, ‘She works for Corning?’” Wilder recalled.
Wilder believes SealingLife Technology is one of the few Black-owned rubber companies in the U.S. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Wilder reasoned that working within the system might be more effective than loudly decrying injustice. “Sometimes it’s not all about starting a riot,” she said. “It’s about strategically understanding their rules, and learning how to utilize them to get what you need.” (A spokesperson for Corning declined to comment on the incident but said that the company has “consistently operated at parity for minority and majority pay equity for many years.”)
Next, Wilder joined Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Kentucky, which paid even better. But the work wasn’t as professionally stimulating as at Corning, so Wilder started doing some information technology consulting on the side, and in 2005 she quit Toyota to go out on her own. One consulting client was Les Burd, who in 1989 had started a rubber company called ElastoSeal. Burd hired Wilder as ElastoSeal’s chief operating officer, and credits her with improving all manner of business functions. A few years later, when Burd was looking for a succession plan, they arranged for Wilder to buy a stake in the company.
The transfer, however, hit a snag when other people involved in the transaction objected. That brought Wilder to a familiar point for many people of color: Seeing no other plausible explanation for a setback, and wondering whether discrimination could be at play. “You see I’m educated. I’ve proven I know how to make you money. And you’re still struggling?” Wilder said. “It’s hard to prove in a court of law, but it really is that legitimate.”
Burd said he understands prejudice exists, but doubts that it thwarted his deal with Wilder (who emphasized her respect for him). “It’s just different hurdles to jump through, and we didn’t make a conscientious enough effort to get it done,” he said.
While the deal languished, Wilder started SealingLife, focusing on niche, high-value, low-volume products, many of which needed to be custom-designed to fit specific machines. ElastoSeal eventually leased part of its facility to Wilder and allowed her to run most of its operations. Wilder figures the long incubation period within an established business may have helped her gain a foothold in Kentucky’s decidedly white male manufacturing industry. (According to the Census Bureau, in 2012, 6,269 out of 7,032 manufacturing firms in Kentucky were white-owned, while 122 were owned by Black people.)
“We gained a lot of business under that camouflage, because it was white-owned,” Wilder said of assuming ElastoSeal’s operations. Gwendolyn Wilder, who now helps run SealingLife, recalled both of them being blatantly slighted in meetings with other businesses and lenders. “It’s not like it’s hidden. It’s in your face,” she said.
Wilder with her brother Delonzo Wilder, left, and half-sister Gwendolyn Wilder. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Danette Wilder’s small staff includes her brother Delonzo Wilder, who helps with SealingLife’s trucking division, and childhood friend Jasmine Heflin, who works in the production room. As orders dropped off during the pandemic, Wilder tried to avoid layoffs by reducing hours, which was easier because some employees left of their own accord to care for children whose schools had closed.
Inside the company’s supply warehouse, a high-ceilinged room with racks that hold spools of rubber and plastics, a curtained-off section hides much of the advanced work that may be key to SealingLife’s future. Sitting atop a giant tabletop machine used to cut large sheets of material, Wilder huddled with a young process engineer named Sarah Honchul, who showed her a tiny, orange, hole-filled rubber rectangle that she had developed for an equine medical device. (Kentucky is horse country, after all.) Honchul is also working on a gasket seal for a company that manufactures laboratory experiment systems for the International Space Station.
“That has to pass tests at NASA,” Wilder said with a hint of pride.
SealingLife is AS9100- and ISO 9001-certified, which allows it to do aerospace business. The certifications are neither easy nor cheap to get, but they are supposed to pay off by getting big companies to trust a business to deliver quality on high-risk products. SealingLife will do lower-tech jobs too; one of its more consistent gigs is making football thigh pads with custom-designed decorative imprints.
Still, everything is harder for companies without strong networks and vast capital reserves. Wilder doesn’t have the cash flow to afford high salaries, so she hires workers right out of college and trains them. She can’t afford new equipment for extruding and grinding rubber, so she buys ancient machines at auctions and refurbishes them. The colorful masses of steel sit like dinosaurs around the warehouse, in various states of operability. “The newest thing in here is probably the fridge,” said Jennifer Cady, Wilder’s quality representative.
When the machines break, which they often do, Wilder repairs them herself, sapping time from hunting new business. She could seek a loan to expand more quickly, but Black-owned firms have historically had a tougher time with lenders. According to a 2016 Federal Reserve survey, the share of Black entrepreneurs applying for loans was 10 percentage points higher than that of white entrepreneurs — but were almost twice as likely to have their applications rejected.
Black-Owned Firms Are Less Likely to Receive All of the Financing They Apply for Than Firms With Non-Black Owners
Only 13% of Black-owned firms that applied for loans received all of the financing they sought.
Note: Black, Asian and white categories refer to non-Hispanic owners. Credit: Source: U.S. Federal Reserve System survey from September and October 2020.
Burd, who is white, said he never had trouble getting loans for ElastoSeal. Wilder’s experience was different: Her own bank turned her down for a loan multiple times, and she finally found a small local bank to extend credit. Of course, it’s easier to guarantee loans with high-dollar, long-term contracts in place. And those kinds of contracts are difficult to win without equipment that produces quick turnarounds.
For example, cutting rubber for O-rings takes longer than it would if SealingLife had the capital to purchase more modern equipment. The company’s hand presses are difficult for less-skilled workers to operate, making it harder to ensure high-quality product. “We would love to get automated presses, because that makes it so we can standardize the process more, we’d have more consistent pieces coming out,” Cady said.
An old machine needing repair at SealingLife’s plant. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
To help her employees develop some of those skills, Wilder sent them to train with Darryl Hawkins, who runs a small rubber compounding company in Wichita Falls, Texas. Compounding involves mixing various chemicals used in rubber production, such as carbon black, which can coat clothes and skin so thoroughly that it still seeps onto sheets after workers have taken a shower. Hawkins and Wilder met at a conference; as far as they can tell, theirs are among a small handful of Black-owned rubber companies in the U.S.
Hawkins followed a path similar to Wilder’s, but two decades earlier. He served as a chemist for tire manufacturing companies before striking out on his own in 1985. Trying to get loans, he said, he was often passed over. Instead, he slowly expanded his company. He primarily served the oil industry, which was struggling with sagging prices before the pandemic, and saw them fall off a cliff when energy demand collapsed. He would sell his business, but there aren’t many interested buyers.
“Unfortunately, it’s like trying to reach up like a drowning man right now,” said Hawkins, who has a fuzzy beard and walks with a cane. “You’d grab for almost anything.”
Wilder hoped that her orders for rubber would keep his business alive, but hasn’t had enough to pass along. She still dreams of buying Hawkins out, but the pandemic put a hitch in those aspirations. Now, she worries about becoming what he is: a small business owner without a cushion that could be wiped out if conditions worsen.
“Where is his retirement?” Wilder asked, rhetorically. “I get emotional about this now. Because there are still people out here who have a sense of integrity, want to give back and do well and serve their customers the old-fashioned way. A lot of minority companies, that’s what they want to do.”
And despite all the progress America is supposed to have made on racial equity, nothing seems to be getting easier.
“I see it happening to me,” Wilder said.
A work station at the plant. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Policymakers have tried for years to mitigate the structural disadvantages facing minority-owned businesses, but those efforts have been scaled back over the years, rather than strengthened.
Take contracting preferences. After passage of a 1977 law, federal, state and local governments set firm targets for the percentage of their procurement dollars that should go to minority-owned businesses. White business owners challenged them almost immediately in court. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a set-aside program in Richmond, Virginia, but left the door open if the public entity conducted a study and found that minority-owned firms were disadvantaged in the area. In 1997, even that bit of flexibility disappeared, when the high court found that Philadelphia’s set-aside program was unconstitutional. Over the years, cities and states weakened their minority contracting requirements to the point where they often have little effect.
In Lexington, for example, the city government aims to award 10% of its contracting dollars to disadvantaged businesses. But that category includes women- and veteran-owned businesses, which scooped up the overwhelming majority of those opportunities in 2019 and 2020, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Less than 1% of the dollar value of the city’s disadvantaged-business contracts went to Black-owned businesses.
Wilder’s experience with city government contracting has been difficult. In 2014, she decided to repurpose trucks that she’d purchased for rubber business and turn them instead into a waste-hauling division. As the business grew, she signed on as a minority-owned subcontractor to a white-owned company called Waste Services of the Bluegrass, which was vying for Lexington’s 5-year, $17 million trash contract. She thinks her participation in the bid helped Waste Services ultimately win. But as the number of vehicles needed to fulfill the contract grew beyond Waste Services’ plans, she contends, her equipment was damaged and the business went to another supplier. She’s now suing in Fayette County Circuit Court for breach of contract, having lost thousands of dollars on the debacle. Waste Services did not respond to a request for comment.
“Welcome to Kentucky,” Wilder said wryly.
On the state level, Kentucky maintains a directory of women- and minority-owned businesses, but does not require their participation in government procurement.
A few of SealingLife’s high-value finished rubber products. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Federal programs have also been under attack. For example, in 1998, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell tried to amend a transportation funding bill to strip out race-based preferences. “Every time the government hands out a highway contract to one person based on race or gender, it discriminates against another person based on race or gender,” McConnell said during floor debate. The Department of Transportation’s disadvantaged business contracting program survived, but the Clinton administration had already tightened eligibility requirements, making it harder to qualify.
What’s left is the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, which gives a competitive edge for federal contracts to small firms that are owned by veterans, minorities, or women. But with onerous certification requirements and no guaranteed returns, the number of enrolled businesses sank in the early 2010s. Participation rose again over the past few years as the application process was streamlined. In 2018, the agency’s inspector general criticized the changes for giving benefits to firms that weren’t truly disadvantaged. (Hawkins’ business got certified — at a cost of about $10,000 — but he said he never saw much new business as a result. Wilder is in the process of applying, saying she thinks she’s built the connections necessary to actually win contracts.)
The federal government also tries to help minority-owned businesses in other ways. The Minority Business Development Agency, established by presidential decree in 1969, has limped along with a budget of about $45 million a year, running a network of business assistance centers and commissioning occasional research reports.
President Donald Trump proposed eliminating the MBDA, but Congress did not oblige. So to run the office, Trump appointed a 2016 campaign volunteer who, before he took a job in Trump’s Department of Commerce, had no business development experience: Henry Childs II, a Texas lawyer.
Childs said he tried to get the MBDA enshrined in statute, and despite his initial allegiance to Trump, spoke up when he saw potential problems with White House initiatives like PPP that gave an edge to businesses with strong banking relationships. “I don’t know if they thought the PPP was going to be the answer, but it wasn’t,” said Childs, who went on to launch a private equity fund for minority-owned businesses. “I don’t think they understand the difference between Wall Street and Main Street.”
Efforts to help minority-owned businesses also exist in the private sector. Over the years, many large companies have developed “supplier diversity” programs to include entrepreneurs of color. But they often have little transparency and weak standards, according to surveys.
With heightened attention to racial injustice following the George Floyd police killing, many large corporations pledged to amp up supplier diversity and lending initiatives. Coca-Cola, for example, pledged to increase its purchases from Black-owned suppliers by $500 million over the next five years, while Netflix deposited $100 million into Black-owned banks. But Adrienne Trimble, who ran the National Minority Supplier Development Council until Mar. 1, when she took a job as chief diversity officer at Sysco, worries that corporate attention could fade.
“We don’t want this to just be a moment in time,” Trimble said. “We expect this to be a movement, and holding those companies accountable to ensuring they have diversity in their supply chains.”
An employee cuts rubber to make O-rings at SealingLife. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Accountability is an elusive thing. Outside of government contracting, no law requires private businesses to contract with minority-owned firms, or to disclose how much they do. As Wilder has experienced, a diversity initiative can peter out quickly. “Like a lot of things to help women and minorities, there’s a big push for a while, and then it wanes off,” Wilder said, remembering her time at Corning.
Parker Hannifin, the Cleveland-based conglomerate, was SealingLife’s biggest O-ring customer until it cut back its orders almost to zero in early 2020. Wilder said the company gave her no explanation.
A spokesperson for Parker Hannifin, Aidan Gormley, said that orders were dropped after it merged several business units and began to manufacture O-rings in-house. “The change was a business decision and in no way reflected the quality of products or services provided by the supplier,” Gormley said.
Parker Hannifin said it has a diverse supplier base, but it declined to disclose any numbers, which makes Wilder skeptical about how much effort they’re putting into it. The company controls so much of the market for seals that, without it, Wilder has a more limited range of potential customers. Wilder even won a regional supplier of the year award from the NMSDC, which she hoped would jump-start new business opportunities. But pitching big companies is frustrating, even when they have supplier diversity programs.
“A lot of times the wrong people are sitting at that table, and they don’t have the knowledge to know what we’re talking about, and they don’t know where to put us,” Wilder said. “So we get caught in this nested loop, which becomes very frustrating, if 99 out of 100 times that’s what happens.”
Wilder is grateful for the nearly $500,000 she got from the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan and PPP programs, which she applied for early (although her second-draw PPP loan hasn’t come through yet, leaving her more dependent on the non-forgivable EIDL). But it’s merely left her treading water, while she works to diversify into operations consulting and team up with other small companies to go after bigger contracts.
What more could public policy do? Along with strengthening government contracting requirements for small businesses, Wilder suggests, one big step would be more heavily incentivizing and monitoring private-sector supplier diversity programs. If the federal government pushed companies like Parker Hannifin to buy goods and services from small and minority-owned firms, she thinks, the resulting leg up would allow companies like hers to grow and be more competitive.
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Advocates and academics have proposed plenty of other ways to bolster Black entrepreneurs. One would be for the federal government to pump tens of billions of dollars into community development financial institutions, which explicitly focus on lending in underserved communities. (Congress got a start on this in December, allocating $12 billion to CDFIs.) Another would be re-invigorating the MBDA to fund more universal, easier-to-access technical assistance programs and to make infrastructure grants that support Black communities, like renovating and redistributing vacant properties. (Connor Maxwell, the Center for American Progress analyst who co-wrote the MBDA proposal, now works at Biden’s National Economic Council, but so far the administration’s racial equity agenda has not specifically focused on minority-owned businesses.)
One side benefit of supporting minority-owned businesses is that they tend to employ more people of color, which could also help close racial gaps in unemployment. And that’s true of Wilder. She’s always seen her business as a way to lift up those around her. Long-term, she doesn’t want SealingLife to be just a family business. She wants it to be something bigger.
“This industry has been run by a lot of white companies that do this and they pass it down to their kids, and it’s like a glass ceiling, and breaking into it is impossible,” Wilder said. And then, only half-joking: “The government needs to have a stimulus package for mental health counseling for what we go through, the constant letdowns. We need some rehab.”
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On Nov. 30, 2020, as Georgia slogged through the second recount of its presidential election results, a man in Ohio perusing Twitter came across what he later described as a “call for action” to protect polling locations across the country. His response was to drive more than 500 miles to Gwinnett County in the Atlanta suburbs. He began surveilling the Gwinnett County elections office — and livestreaming his vigil on Twitter.
At around 11 a.m. on Dec. 1, the Ohio man zeroed in on two workers — both Gwinnett County IT employees — who he decided, absent any evidence, were illegally removing “Chinese servers” used for voting tabulation. He “felt he needed to be a patriot and take action,” according to a Gwinnett County police report of the incident. From his black pickup truck, he recorded video of the two men putting equipment in their car. When they drove off, he followed them.
The Ohio man quickly gained thousands of viewers and retweets for his livestream, partially by repeatedly tagging the Twitter account @CodeMonkeyZ, a now-suspended major disseminator of QAnon conspiracy theories. A viewer in Oklahoma called the police department in Gwinnett’s county seat, Lawrenceville, complaining that the two county employees were mishandling voting equipment and that police should stop them. (The Lawrenceville Police Department also got complaints from Kansas and Utah about alleged ballot cheating that callers claimed to have seen on livestreams.)
The suspicious cargo the workers loaded into their car actually had nothing to do with elections: They’d stopped by the voter registration office to pick up new desk phones to distribute across the county. Gwinnett County elections supervisor Kristi Royston had warned her employees to be mindful of their surroundings, particularly as groups of people concerned about election fraud had been gathering at the county elections office that day, and encouraged staffers to “buddy up” before they went out.
The black pickup followed the Gwinnett County employees’ car for nearly 10 miles: first, to a gas station, where no one got out of their vehicles — the two employees later told police they were trying to lose their tail — then to a gated county water treatment facility. One of the employees called 911, waiting in the car to keep the situation from escalating.
After police arrived, one of the IT workers said he had no interest in pressing charges and “just wanted [the Ohio man] to leave him alone,” according to the police report. Police let the Ohio man off with a warning. He did not respond to requests for comment; ProPublica is not naming him because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation received an increase in “threat information and tips” — including death threats against elected officials and election workers — in the wake of November’s presidential election and throughout the Senate runoff campaigns that followed, according to bureau public information officer Nelly Miles. Despite this, there have been next to no arrests and little follow-through by lawmakers.
ProPublica could identify only one case of a Georgia elections-related threat since November that led to an arrest: an Albany, Georgia, man who according to police yelled a racial slur at and threatened a campaign worker who had left a flyer at his house. No arrests were made in any of a dozen or more high-profile cases of politically fueled threats against Georgia’s governor and secretary of state, all of its state legislators, Fulton County’s district attorney, and election officials and workers in several counties.
For nearly a year, election administrators across the country weathered the pandemic while facing an unprecedented number of attacks and threats — leading many officials to resign or retire. Since November, the situation has been especially tense in Georgia, after a combustible chain of events: a Democratic presidential win in the state for the first time since 1992, the Trump campaign’s many challenges to the state’s election results and recounts, newly elected U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s support of baseless conspiracy theories and comments promoting violence against Democratic officials, two runoff races that would determine which party took control of the U.S. Senate, and a leaked phone call in which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to reverse his loss, to name a few.
“Georgia certainly was one of the top places that we were looking at for threats to election officials,” said Nealin Parker, co-director of the Bridging Divides Initiative, a project based at Princeton University. The initiative has teamed with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, to create the U.S. Crisis Monitor, which analyzes political violence and demonstrations in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Crisis Monitor, Georgia saw paramilitary activity — by such militant far-right groups as the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, or the Proud Boys — at more than twice the rate seen at demonstrations taking place nationwide between the November election and President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. At least eight Georgians have been arrested for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
But arrests for politically motivated incidents at the state or local level in Georgia remain rare.
Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Brian Whiteside has vowed to prosecute anyone who threatens or assaults an election worker, which is a felony under state law. Even though police didn’t file charges in the IT incident involving the Ohio man, Whiteside is investigating it; he said that, if a law has been broken, “our job is to be a preventive agency and enforce the law.” Otherwise, he said, “what type of message do you send to people when they do this? That it’s going to be lawless?”
Whiteside also said there needs to be a special division of state government tasked with investigating election-related crimes. “I have a deep fear that somebody is going to get hurt out here,” he said. “Because they’re not making enough preventive arrests when these incidents happen.”
Around the same time as the Ohio man followed the Gwinnett County IT employees, social media users circulated videos of a voting-systems tech who was doing some work at a Gwinnett elections office. The videos show the tech walking away from one election workstation with a USB drive, then inserting the drive into a nearby laptop. Social media users accused him of stealing or changing voting data. (The part of the video with the USB drive was a “smoking gun,” wrote one.) The tech actually was transferring data to the laptop in order to use Microsoft Excel, which wasn’t installed on the first computer, according to a Reuters fact check.
The tech’s home address was shared across social media; one Twitter user posted a warning that he was “committing treason” and included a picture of a noose. This prompted Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling to ask of then-President Trump in a widely covered press conference: “Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed.”
In November, a video that drew 5 million views on Twitter falsely accused a temporary elections worker in Georgia’s Fulton County of rigging votes. The worker told WABE that he changed his appearance and went into hiding for three days.
In the time between the November election and the January runoffs, Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters about death threats on social media against him and his family; Raffensperger reported a text message that said, “You better not botch this recount. Your life depends on it,” sexualized threats against his wife, and people trespassing on their home property; an aggressor followed a Georgia election worker home and called him a racial slur; and Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey received an email with his address, a photo of his home, and the message: “Your days are numbered. The FBI can’t save you. … Every time you leave your house in the morning, make sure to say goodbye to your family, as you may not see them again.”
A couple of days before the January runoff election, employees in 10 Georgia counties — all of which lean Republican — received threatening emails about explosives at polling places. Sheriff’s deputies and other police in those counties increased their presence at polling places during the election, and Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix said the GBI later traced the email to an overseas server. As with the other incidents, no arrests were made.
Unlike in Georgia, recent high-profile, politically motivated threats in other states have resulted in charges and arrests. In November, authorities in Norfolk, Virginia, arrested a man for threatening to bomb a polling place. The same month, a New York man was arrested and charged with making threatening interstate communications after allegedly using social media to issue an apparent threat against U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and to write that he wanted to “blow up” an FBI building. After Republicans on the elections board of Wayne County, Michigan, initially refused to certify November election results in favor of Biden, the U.S. Attorney’s office charged a New Hampshire woman with sending threatening messages — allegedly including photos of a bloodied, naked body — to a Republican member of that board.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office also filed charges this year against multiple people for making threats to public officials — including a Georgia man who in September allegedly left a threatening voicemail for a Michigan judge who had ruled in favor of Biden in a case related to mail-in ballots.
“It is unacceptable and illegal to intimidate or threaten public officials,” Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel said in a statement. “To those who think they can do so by hiding behind a keyboard or phone, we will find you and we will prosecute you, to the fullest extent of the law. No elected official should have to choose between doing their job and staying safe.”
Georgia state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat who represents parts of Atlanta’s northeast suburbs, said he and all state legislators received multiple emailed threats after the November election. Holcomb said he’d be interested in exploring tougher penalties for crimes committed against election workers. But first, he said, lawmakers need to get a sense of the pervasiveness of the problem.
“What we need to really think through is whether or not 2020 and ’21 were aberrations, with the dramatic increase of threats of violence against election workers,” he said. “Or is that the new norm? And if it’s the new norm, then we really need to be prepared to address it.”
And yet, even as misinformation gave rise to a mounting number of threats against election workers and polling places, there’s no centralized way to track every threat in Georgia.
The GBI oversees a multi-agency “fusion center” called the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which logs threats and tips and shares information with the FBI and other agencies. The GBI’s Miles described GISAC as one part of the state’s threat-monitoring system. But the GBI does not keep a statewide tally of politically motivated threats, which could fall under a variety of statutes, including intimidation of election workers, trespassing or terroristic threats.
The absence of a centralized system can make it difficult to detect patterns or spikes. That’s not uncommon: Law enforcement officials in Arizona, Vermont and Michigan told ProPublica that election-related threats in their jurisdictions are not comprehensively tracked at the state level.
“It’s hard to think of anything more urgent when we’re talking about election security than protecting election officials and election workers,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Project at the Brennan Center for Justice. “If we can’t accomplish that, then our elections are in real danger. And right now, as far as I can tell, it’s being mostly ignored.”
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As for the types of changes that state or federal lawmakers can make to safeguard elections workers and officials, Norden pointed to a bill introduced last year by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker that proposed stronger protections for federal judges following the murder of a New Jersey federal judge’s son. Norden said election workers would benefit from similar protections, including the ability to shield personal information from public view, training on how to maintain online privacy, and new threat-management capabilities for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Gwinnett County elections supervisor Royston, who’s worked in Georgia elections offices for more than two decades, said last year’s presidential election was unprecedented for her staff. Royston is thinking ahead to 2022, when Georgia is likely to see a heated gubernatorial race (potentially a rematch between Kemp and Stacey Abrams) and another U.S. Senate race (the newly elected Raphael Warnock, who’s filling the remaining two years of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, is almost certain to face a Republican challenger).
Last year, the combination of the pandemic, new and contested elections equipment, looming threats, and scrutiny from all over the country forced Georgia election officials to be “reactive,” Royston said. “I think now that we’ve experienced that, we can say, ‘Okay, what do we need to plan for in case we have that again?’”
Mollie Simon contributed reporting.
Update, March 3, 2021: Hours after publication of this story, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had found debris from a missing helicopter piloted by Andy Teuber, the former president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The helicopter took off from Anchorage and disappeared from tracking while the story was being prepared for publication, but that was not disclosed publicly until hours later. Details of what happened are not yet known.
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This story was co-published with the Anchorage Daily News, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.
A week ago, one of Alaska’s most powerful executives abruptly resigned from his job leading the largest tribal health organization in the state. Neither the outgoing president nor the group said why.
Earlier in the day, his former assistant had delivered a scathing three-page letter to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that described a pattern of abusive behavior, harassment and coerced sexual encounters by President Andy Teuber, according to the document, obtained by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica.
The woman, Savanah Evans, who is 27, delivered her own resignation letter on Feb. 23, describing workplace abuse, harassment and intimidation at the hands of Teuber, who is 52.
“Andy unrelentingly coerced, forced, and required sex of me,” Evans wrote in her letter. In a phone interview Monday, she told the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica that much of the abuse took place in ANTHC offices, and that it derailed her personal and professional life.
Evans gave her permission to be named in this article, saying she wants to end a cycle of abuse.
Savanah Evans is a former special assistant to the chairman and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Photographed on March 1, 2021. Credit: Bill Roth/ADN
“If I don’t speak up,” she wrote in her resignation letter, “I will be no less guilty than those who have done nothing but swept it under the rug.”
Teuber’s departure follows the recent resignations of two consecutive Alaska attorneys general, Kevin Clarkson and Ed Sniffen, and of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, all following allegations of inappropriate interactions with women. Clarkson apologized for sending hundreds of text messages to a junior state employee, including some inviting her to his home. Sniffen has not responded to requests for comment about allegations that three decades ago he had sex with an underage high school student when he was her mock trial coach. Berkowitz acknowledged “unacceptable personal conduct” after a TV news reporter disclosed that he had sent her nude selfies.
In an email Monday, Teuber denied the allegations, saying he had a “completely consensual personal relationship.” In a separate email, Teuber said that Evans often initiated the sexual encounters between them. Evans, in turn, says that Teuber is the one who insisted their sexual relationship continue even after she wanted it to stop.
Teuber wrote that he couldn’t respond to some specific allegations about ANTHC, its employees or its practices because of strict confidentiality provisions he agreed to as part of his former position.
“I have never, and would never, engage in a non-consensual or ‘quid pro quo’ personal relationship with anyone,” he wrote. “The allegations of wrongdoing that I have been made aware of are false, and these allegations and their timing appear designed to portray me unjustly and falsely; to damage my personal and family relationships; but especially to sabotage my recent engagement and new marriage; and to undermine my professional prospects.”
Evans and her attorney, Jana Weltzin, said they were not aware that Teuber was engaged or had gotten married.
ANTHC spokesperson Shirley Young said Monday that the tribal health organization is conducting an “independent outside” investigation, but that the organization could not comment on specific allegations, citing personnel confidentiality rules.
Alaska law does not prohibit sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, and ANTHC’s policies do not explicitly prohibit them either. The organization’s policy on personal relationships in the workplace requires supervisors to disclose any sexual relationship with “an individual within their chain of command or area of influence” to the human resources department. It also requires employees who are in a relationship to behave professionally “during work hours and within the working environment.”
Teuber was not Evans’ direct supervisor even though she was his direct assistant, Weltzin said. Young said she could not comment on whether Teuber disclosed any kind of relationship with Evans, as would be required by the rule, citing personnel confidentiality rules.
Rebecca G. Pontikes, a Boston attorney who specializes in representing workers in gender-based employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases, said some companies go further and ban sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Such relationships, if they aren’t consensual, would amount to sexual harassment, which is illegal in the workplace under federal employment law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, she said.
Teuber wrote that he would participate in the investigation and planned to offer “evidence refuting the allegations of wrongdoing made against me.” Evans said she possesses a “massive” number of text messages and one or more recordings that substantiate her claims. Teuber said he would forward video files and a “volume of exchanges” to the news organizations, but he had not done so as of Tuesday afternoon. Evans and her attorney declined to provide a copy of an audio recording that had been provided to board members, and did not respond to requests to see the text messages.
For more than a decade, Teuber was the president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and one of the most powerful executives in Alaska.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage on March 1, 2021. Credit: Emily Mesner/ADN
ANTHC is “the largest, most comprehensive Tribal health organization in the United States,” according to its website, and it has a far-reaching impact in Alaska: The organization co-owns and manages the Alaska Native Medical Center, a major trauma hospital in Anchorage, as well as providing health services to more than 170,000 Alaska Native people and communities across the state.
The organization has more than 3,000 employees, making it one of the largest health employers in Alaska.
Teuber was paid a salary of more than $1 million per year to oversee ANTHC, at the same time serving as chief executive of the Kodiak Area Native Association, a regional tribal health provider. He served on other powerful boards, including the Alaska Federation of Natives, and he was a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. He resigned both of those roles last week as well.
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States, particularly among Alaska Native women.
A Sexual Relationship
Soon after she started work as Teuber’s special assistant in October 2019, Evans said she received a request for an “inappropriate photo” while on a work trip to Kodiak with Teuber, which she refused to provide. Their sexual relationship began the same month, according to the resignation letter. Within a month or two, Evans said she told Teuber she did not want to continue having sex with him, she said in an interview.
Teuber denied the allegation.
“After she made her interest plainly known, we did engage in intimate relations, which were always willing, voluntary and consensual, and often initiated by Ms. Evans,” Teuber wrote in an email.
The two continued to have sex. Evans said she was required to bring paperwork to Teuber’s home office.
“[On] my first trip to deliver papers for his signature, he pushed me into the downstairs front bedroom for sex and told me that, ‘You always listen better after I fuck you,’” she wrote to the board members.
“You may wonder if this relationship was consensual,” she wrote. “It is not, if the person controls your employment.”
In one instance, Evans wrote that “[Teuber] wouldn’t get off of me to let me leave.”
“Later he texted me, simply saying ‘I’m sorry; that wasn’t cool.’”
Teuber denied that any sexual encounter between the two was not consensual.
Another time, Teuber and the woman had a sexual encounter inside the ANTHC boardroom executive suite, she wrote.
Teuber denies this happened.
“This is another degrading, dehumanizing example of the requirement to keep my job,” she wrote. “Any time I tried to ignore his calls or texts during my personal non-work private time, he would swear at me, demand responses, and threaten me by referring to my job and stating that I have it because of him.”
Teuber responded: “I did at times express myself strongly to Ms. Evans, but all such expressions were job performance related.”
Teuber said in an email that he resigned “a few minutes” after he learned of the allegations against him. He did not answer questions about why he resigned.
“I am a single mother of a 4-year-old daughter. I am an Athabascan from the Koyukon Region,” Evans wrote to the 15-member ANTHC board. She said she appreciated the opportunity to work for the organization and acknowledged that her complaint about Teuber’s behavior would normally be sent to a human resources department, not the board of directors.
In her resignation letter, Evans said that ANTHC has tolerated and enabled similar abuse in the past.
Teuber wrote that he was not aware of any prior allegations against him.
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ANTHC did not respond to questions about any past reports of abuse. In a written statement Monday, incoming chairperson Bernice Kaigelak said the organization “will not tolerate harassment of any kind.”
“As the new chair, I am committed to a harassment-free workplace,” Kaigelak said. “This is particularly important given the rate of sexual harassment or abuse of Alaska Native women. All complaints of harassment will be investigated, and prompt action will be taken when issues are identified, regardless about whom they are directed.”