Mark Robinson ignited his unlikely rise in North Carolina politics with a fiery speech to the Greensboro City Council in 2018.
Only, it wasn’t really a speech.
It was a thundering sermon on gun rights, T.D. Jakes style, delivered with a booming voice and stabs of a finger into the air to underscore his points.
Robinson, a former factory worker, was reacting to an ill-considered suggestion that a gun show should be banned at the Greensboro Coliseum in the wake of yet another mass shooting.
“It seems like every time we have one of these shootings nobody wants to put the blame where it goes, which is at the shooter’s feet,” Robinson said. “You want to put it at my feet.”
Robinson added: “The bottom line is when that Second Amendment was written, whether the framers liked it or not, they wrote it for everybody, and I’m everybody and the law-abiding citizens of this city are everybody and we want our rights and we want to keep our rights. And by God, we’re going to keep them, come hell or high water.”
Speaking without a single note, Robinson was so compelling that night that even a gun-control advocate might have been moved to say Amen.
(In fact, the News & Record editorially agreed with his main point that banning the gun and knife show was neither useful nor right.)
There was silence in the room when he finished. Then applause.
A YouTube video of the speech went viral.
And now Robinson, a Republican, is the first Black lieutenant governor in North Carolina history.
He defeated Democrat Yvonne Holley of Raleigh, who also is Black, with 52% of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
Holley has been a longtime state lawmaker.
As the second-youngest of 10 children, Robinson grew up in foster care.
He has made clear his fervent conservatism.
He says schools "indoctrinate" children by making them watch CNN and MSNBC.
He opposes Medicaid expansion and incorrectly says it has "largely failed" in the states that have adopted it.
He also dismisses the idea of systemic racism.
“I don’t believe that systemic racism in our nation would allow two Black people to stand here running for lieutenant governor,” Robinson told the editorial board of The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer before the election.
Robinson does, however, have a point when he dismisses the idea that race has anything to do with whether you're conservative.
"It's the color of a person's skin. It's the values that we share," Robinson told the N&O and Observer.
It has always been to Black people's detriment that they are fiercely loyal to a party that isn't fiercely loyal in return.
And there are more Black conservatives than you think. But the Republican Party hasn't done much to woo them.
Stuck between that rock and hard place, Black voters too often are taken for granted.
So maybe someone with Robinson's natural gifts as a communicator could help change that.
He certainly fills a room with his presence.
But he may learn, quickly, that the spotlight of statewide celebrity can be as harsh as it is bright.
For instance, Robinson has filed offensive posts on social media about Muslims and Jews and transgender people, among other targets.
A post referred to Michelle Obama as a “anti-American and gay marriage supporting liberal leftist elitist,” adding, “I’ll be glad when he takes his boyfriend and leaves the White House.”
"We should be paying attention to much more important things,” Robinson told The News & Observer.
He told WRAL: “I’m not ashamed of anything that I post."
He should be.
It is disconcerting that he would think these things, but to write them for all the world to see is even worse.
There is a difference between being convicted in your beliefs and posting mean, tasteless and offensive comments online.
That standard should apply to all of us, but especially to an elected leader.
Robinson is not just some faceless provocateur with a computer and a Facebook account.
He says he sees the lieutenant governor's post as a "bully pulpit."
That doesn't mean he should take the "bully" part of that term so literally.
He is on a bigger stage now.
And his star is rising.
He is lieutenant governor of this state and a highly visible representative of all North Carolinians.
His words have power. And consequences.
If he doesn’t mind his Facebook manners out of respect for others, then he should at least do so out of respect for the office.
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