By Richard Sullins |

Kirk Smith, the Republican chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, recently declined an invitation to attend a diversity conference set for this week in Sanford, saying the principles it will promote are “solely based on Marxist ideology.”

Smith, as well as the rest of the board of commissioners and members of the Sanford City Council and the Lee County Board of Education, had been invited by the “Let’s Do It Together Foundation, Inc.” of Sanford to attend the conference, planned for March 22 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.

The Foundation is an outgrowth of work done by the Sanford Equity Taskforce during the earliest days of the COVID pandemic in Lee County in 2020 and 2021. The group was assembled by then-Mayor Chet Mann and charged with identifying community needs and recommending solutions that it considered to be mission critical to the health and well-being of the city that more than 30,000 people call home. During its work, the group’s focus expanded further to include all of Lee County.

The agenda for the gathering that will take place this week advertises discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and teaching sessions that center on issues that involve inclusive leadership. Community Connector and Sanford attorney Jeannette Peace said this training comes at an opportune moment as the county continues to experience rapid industrial growth.

“We are attracting companies from all over the world and this conference will provide tools to help create a culture where all individuals are valued,” she wrote to the county’s leadership.

Smith claims DEI message is Trojan Horse

But Smith saw Peace’s invitation in a very different light.

Smith responded in a four-paragraph email to Peace on February 23. The chairman wasted no time in getting to the point of why he was declining the invitation.

“The premise of D.I.E. is solely based on Marxist ideology,” he wrote. “D.I.E. condones discrimination based on nefarious physiological and psychological differences without any decisions based on competence, qualifications, or merit.”

His email offered no explanation for his changing of the movement’s acronym from “DEI” to “DIE,” aside from saying that it more accurately reflects the “‘Divisive, Incompetent, and Elusive’ factors that we see fully on display in Washington, DC.”

Smith went on to assert, without including evidence, that the Biden administration has fully embraced the DEI message through political patronage appointments.

“We see the incompetence on display as we watch the White House Spokeswoman, the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Assistant Secretary of Health, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition in the Office of Nuclear Energy, a Supreme Court Justice (Ketanji Brown Jackson), and a recent appointment to a Federal Judge seat who could not answer basic Constitutional questions. All of the above were selected based on D.I.E. and not their qualifications,” he concluded.

Peace responds

Peace replied to Smith with an assurance that the event was not designed to promote Marxist economic or political principles, and that any notion that “competence, qualification, and merit” have no place with models that support diversity, equity, and inclusion is false.

“When you tout competence, qualifications or merit as the yardstick for decision making, it would appear that not ALL decisions are based on those criteria,” she wrote, pointing to cabinet-level appointments made by former President Donald Trump of a noted philanthropist and a neurosurgeon that failed to translate to success in the way they led two very large government bureaucracies during his administration. “So, when you tout competence, qualifications, or merit as the yardstick for decision making, it would appear that not ALL decisions are based on those criteria.”

Then, Peace moved her attention to a recent local example that concerned a controversial $500,000 grant to a local church group that Smith supported.

“I would also note that the board that (Smith) lead almost unanimously voted to fund an organization, with one-half million dollars, that had limited experience, incomplete credentials, and questionable judgment. Hence, standing on a platform that boasts of decision making based solely on ‘competence, qualification or merit’ when favoritism is known to exist, is shaky ground,” she wrote.

Peace said the need for this type of training is greater than ever before in Lee County because of “the recruiting of companies from all over the world” such as Bharat Forge and VinFast “who bring their own culture, value systems and beliefs into our community.”

“This conference does not seek to further nor challenge political or economic systems that are in place,” Peace concluded. “Rather, we seek to create a culture where our neighbors and co-workers are free to be different, yet treated with care, consideration, and respect. Even when we do not agree, we can respectfully value each other’s opinions.”

Smith told The Rant he stands by every word in his original email to Peace.

“My reference to Marxist Ideology is simple,” he said via email. “Karl Marx introduced Critical Theory – dividing one class against another. You know the maxim, ‘the rich need to pay their fair share.’ Derrick Bell introduced Critical Race Theory (CRT), pitting one race against another: whites (as) irredeemable racist oppressors and people of color (as) the oppressed. The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by self-professed Marxists, used their organization to shake down major corporations using ‘white guilt.’ Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) is the enforcement arm of CRT. The high priest of CRT is Ibram X. Kendi, who stated, ‘The only remedy for present discrimination is future discrimination.’ What a horrible ideology – destroying Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ We now supplant that dream with the persistent nightmare of CRT, DEI, and soon ESG (environmental, social, and governance – a movement of forward-thinking leadership that looks ahead to the long-term).