Despite vehement protests by members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) and several national, statewide and Los Angeles County women’s political groups, former Adjutant Gen. Mary Kight, the first African American (male or female) to head the California National Guard, was recently fired by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has since replaced her with a White male.
Kight’s release had been rumored by anonymous sources several months before the news of her termination surfaced; and it comes as a rather abrupt conclusion to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to appoint her as general last February.
Kight, a 35-year veteran, has served the California National Guard as an avionics, field and aircraft maintenance officer. She was also appointed assistant adjutant general in 2006.
However, her removal from the National Guard’s highest office has prompted the criticism by various Black leaders throughout the state.
Many have, in fact, suggested that Kight was unfairly targeted by what Sen. Curren Price, chairman of the CLBC, describes as “the old boy’s network” of White male senior officers who could not tolerate serving under a Black woman.
He shared his concerns in a written statement:
“As chairman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, I am disappointed to hear that Major General Kight was not reappointed as [adjutant] general for the California National Guard. The [CLBC] had most recently sent a letter of support to the governor expressing their unanimous support for her reappointment. During her period of service, Major General Kight had a distinguished record of service to both the State of California and to the nation; she had made it her mission to rid the California National Guard of any and all alleged corruption and fraud. I applaud her dedication and commitment during her time as [Adjutant] General.”
California Assemblymember Holly Mitchell said the following:
“Adjutant General Mary Kight has stepped from the command post of California’s National Guard into the annals of history as the first African American woman to head the militia of an American state. She has been at the helm during perhaps the most tense period of anti-terrorism alert California has known since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As recent global developments reverberated through the Pacific Rim, General Kight maintained successful vigilance on the entire West Coast, whether the threat has been growing secret terrorist activity, international drug cartel violence, nuclear sabre-rattling from North Korea, or the potential nuclear danger drifting our way from post-earthquake Japan. Moreover, she repeatedly responded to the need for assistance during domestic natural disasters by deploying state troopers. I have every confidence that having served in command of such an important post, General Kight can expect a top-level assignment in our armed services, should that be her choice.”
For several months, Kight has been confronted with numerous accusations linking her to a number of financial scandals involving up to $100 million in student loan repayments and cash bonuses handed out as recruitment incentives. Top Guard officials have also been accused of receiving double and triple pay for a single day’s work. Federal authorities are investigating both.
These allegations were the subject of a state Senate hearing in Sacramento last month as senators questioned Guard officials, including Kight, about recent financial lapses and episodes of possible fraud.They expressed concern that such wrongdoings might tarnish the image set by active and retired Guard veterans.
The Guard was recently permitted by federal investigators to conduct its own comprehensive audit of the incentive programs. However, authorities insist that details cannot be released without jeopardizing the ongoing criminal investigation.
During the trial, Kight and her staff denied all charges of fraud, and cited their efforts to rapidly and forcefully investigate possible improprieties in the months leading to her ouster.
“Those issues had been in existence long before I came,” Kight said in one published interview.
“But when I assumed command, I owned them. They belonged to me. I had to deal with them. I had to take it as it was. I had to take those issues, put them on the right track and call in the FBI, the IRS and others to get them resolved. That’s what I was handed, and I was doing my job. I did not shy away from my duties as the commander,” she added.
Alice Huffman, president of the California State NAACP, looked into the matter of Kight’s dismissal and came away with no misgivings about Brown’s decision.
“Because of the scandals reported in the newspaper, he [Brown] declined to reappoint her [Kight], she said. “He is working on an exit plan so she can leave with dignity”
According to National Guard insiders, the senior minority officers who remain consist of only two Blacks and one Hispanic. These sources went on to say that Kight was instrumental in opening the doors of promotion to several other minority candidates, while also clamping down on reported incidents of institutional racism in the California Military Department, which she still heads.
Nevertheless, Gov. Brown’s decision to put someone else in charge is one Kight says she respects.
“I serve at the pleasure of the governor. He can make the choice at any time, and that’s his right.”