Ohio GOP Senate nominee Bernie Moreno benefited from the kind of diversity initiative that Republicans hate

Ohio GOP Senate nominee Bernie Moreno benefited from the kind of diversity initiative that Republicans hate
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Bernie Moreno speaking to supporters during his primary election night watch party in Westlake, Ohio earlier this month.
Bernie Moreno speaking to supporters during his primary election night watch party in Westlake, Ohio earlier this month.

  • Bernie Moreno, the GOP nominee for Senate in Ohio, is an opponent of affirmative action.
  • But he’s said he got his first dealership at a lower price in part because of his racial background.
  • It puts Moreno in an uncomfortable spot as the GOP crusades against corporate DEI initiatives.

Bernie Moreno, the GOP nominee for US Senate in Ohio, has long staked his political identity on the car dealership empire he once oversaw.

Moreno, an immigrant from Colombia, has frequently touted his success in the auto industry as a shining example of the American dream — and his ability to do it all on his own — in the course of both his aborted 2022 bid and his bitterly fought 2024 campaign.

“I did what you’re supposed to do when you come to the United States. Learned the language. Worked hard. Didn’t take handouts,” Moreno wrote in a 2021 op-ed. “It worked. I risked everything to build businesses. I employed thousands of Ohioans. I’m proof positive that the American Dream is alive.”

Yet when Moreno bought his first car dealership in 2005, he got some extra help as the result of the kind of diversity initiatives that Republicans now decry, according to his public comments in 2016 and court testimony in 2014.

After 12 years working for an auto dealership group in Boston, Moreno decided to buy a struggling dealership in North Olmsted, Ohio that was owned by Roger Penske, the founder of the Penske Corporation and a former professional race car driver.

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As Moreno has publicly recounted himself, Mercedes-Benz pushed Penske to sell the dealership in exchange for essentially handing him another dealership in Arizona — and the luxury car dealership specifically wanted a “minority” to take over.

“The stipulation was that Mercedes got to choose the dealer, and the dealer had to be a minority,” Moreno said during a “Forum on Race” organized by YWCA Greater Cleveland in February 2016. “That was the rules. So they had a few different candidates, they ended up choosing me.”

But Moreno benefited from Mercedes-Benz’s push for diversity in more ways than one.

In 2014, he testified during an unrelated lawsuit in Florida that Mercedes-Benz managed to get him a discount because auto companies like them faced “pressure to have more diversity among their dealership ranks.”

“They wanted a minority operator there,” Moreno said during the 2014 hearing, according to a transcript obtained by Business Insider. “So what they did is they went to Roger Penske and asked him to sell that dealership for a dramatically reduced price in exchange for Mercedes giving Penske an open point in Chandler, Arizona.”

It is unclear how steep of a discount Moreno received. Reagan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for Moreno’s campaign, said the GOP candidate was “offered this opportunity because he is a talented businessman, and he was able to turn this location into a successful dealership,” but did not provide further information on the sale.

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Mercedes-Benz declined to comment on the specifics of the 2005 sale, but said in a statement that the company “is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the business, which includes initiatives to diversify ownership within the dealer network.” The Penske Automotive Group did not respond to a request for comment.

By the end of 2019, Moreno had sold his empire of dealerships, which by then had spanned four states. Moreno and his wife are now worth somewhere between $43 million and $186 million, according to a mandatory personal financial disclosure filed with the US Senate in August 2023.

Despite Moreno acknowledging that he benefited from Mercedes-Benz considering diversity when deciding who could buy the dealership, he maintains that he is opposed to affirmative action programs.

When the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in college admission in June 2023, Moreno celebrated the restoration of “race blind merit” in the educational system, arguing that the status quo had created a “culture of low expectations for minorities.”

Since that decision, Republicans have taken aim at diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts elsewhere. In July 2023, 13 GOP state Attorneys General sent a letter to Fortune 100 CEOs threatening legal action over their DEI initiatives, arguing that they could amount to “racial discrimination.” House Republicans have also launched a probe into the federal government’s oversight of those initiatives.

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“As he has said time and time again, Bernie is opposed to misguided Affirmative Action policies championed by the far-left, that prioritize race over merit and success,” said McCarthy. “Bernie believes that merit should always be the singular factor in these decisions — period. His dealerships performed to the highest standard, and he believes that success should be the only factor for hiring practices, promotions, and business dealings.”

Moreno is set to face incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in a race that could determine which party controls the Senate.

Brown managed to win reelection in 2012 and 2018 even as the state has drifted rightward, but this year could be different with former President Donald Trump appearing on the ballot at the same time.

During his Senate campaign, Moreno has faced criticism from both Democrats and his GOP primary opponents for issues stemming from his time as a car dealership owner, including being sanctioned by a Massachusetts court for shredding documents amid a wage theft lawsuit.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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