Oklahoma House reprimands Rep. Sally Kern

Below is an article from our Affirmative Action Media Monitoring Project. These articles represent a wide variety of views. These views do not necessarily represent the views of AAPF but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of the current affirmative action debate. May 4, 2011

By Michael McNutt

The House of Representatives on Monday publicly reprimanded Rep. Sally Kern for disparaging comments she made against blacks and women during a debate last week on affirmative action.

The House took the action about an hour after Kern, R-Oklahoma City, made a tearful apology on the House floor.

Rep. Mike Shelton, one of four blacks in the 101-member House, made the motion to reprimand her. Kern made the motion to unanimously accept it.

“I made my apology, and I do understand that just saying you’re sorry does not make everything right,” Kern said.

A member objected, and a roll-call vote was taken. The House voted 76-16 to reprimand Kern. It’s the third public reprimand the GOP-controlled House has issued against members — all Republicans — this session. Rep. Mike Reynolds, of Oklahoma City, was scolded for interrupting the pastor of the day, and Rep Randy Terrill, of Moore, was reprimanded for making comments considered threatening to the House speaker.

Shelton said the reprimand was necessary because Oklahoma is working hard to improve its image.

“We are trying to be a player within the United States as well as the world,” he said. “The comments by Sally Kern make us step back and it makes people look at the state of Oklahoma as a different place.

“We must recognize Oklahoma is changing and it’s changing fast,” Shelton said. “Our population is becoming more diverse and that we need to learn to be more accepting of others.”

MAKING AN APOLOGY

During her apology on the House floor, Kern, who three years ago did not apologize for telling an Oklahoma City Republican group that the homosexual agenda is a bigger threat than terrorism or Islam to America, said she was sorry for her comments during last week’s debate.

“I certainly stumbled in my words the other night,” said Kern, who spoke from the lectern and addressed the full House.

She said several people had read her latest comments, including House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. She quoted Scripture a couple times.

“I said some words that were not real thought out and that offended many African-Americans and many women,” Kern said. “That was not my intent. ... I take full responsibility for it and I am truly sorry.”

Kern said Monday she didn’t speak with contempt or malice during her eight-minute speech last week. She submitted a written apology Thursday, which was accepted by Steele.

Monday was the first time the House met since Wednesday night’s debate.

Kern cried toward the end of her apology, which lasted several minutes.

“My poor choice of words were hurtful and offensive to many,” Kern said. “I am offering my apology and asking for your forgiveness.

“I hope that you will find it in your heart to accept it,” she said.

MOTION TO REPRIMAND

Shelton made a motion to publicly reprimand Kern after her speech. He was told he would have to get it scheduled with Floor Leader Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa. An hour after Kern’s speech, Shelton was recognized to make his motion requesting the reprimand.

Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, voted against the reprimand. He said Kern said some stupid things during the late-night debate but that she did the right thing by apologizing.

“If we reprimand for what somebody says in debate we could have a very detrimental, chilling effect on free speech,” he said.

Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, said the reprimand “flies in the face of every Sunday school lesson I’ve ever had.”

“Kern issued a sincere apology,” he said. “My faith teaches me that I’m to forgive.”

Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, said he took constitutional privilege, which allowed him to abstain from the vote, because he wasn’t on the House floor when Kern made her comments.

Three Democrats voted against the reprimand, drawing criticism from Sen. Judy Eason McIntire, D-Tulsa.

Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, told The Oklahoman it was up to the Republican-controlled House to determine if any action should be taken against Kern. Fallin said it’s appropriate that Kern apologized; she doesn’t think Kern should resign.

“It was very unfortunate that Representative Kern misspoke and made the comments that she made,” Fallin said. “I certainly do not support the comments that she made on the House floor. All Oklahomans work very hard no matter what your race, color or creed is, men or women. It’s just an unfortunate comment. She has apologized; I accept her apology.”

WHAT WAS SAID

During a debate Wednesday night, Kern said minorities and women earn less than men because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative. She made the comments while debating for Senate Joint Resolution 15, a measure that would allow the state to not abide by affirmative action guidelines.

Kern said equal opportunity should be based on ability regardless of color and gender.

Kern questioned whether blacks were in prison “just because they’re black ... or could it be because they didn’t want to work hard in school?

“I taught school for 20 years, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t want to work as hard,” she said.

Talking about her own sex, Kern said, “Women usually don’t want to work as hard as a man. Women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time.

“I’m not saying women don’t work hard,” she said. “Women like ... to have a moderate work life with plenty of time for spouse and children and other things like that. They work very hard, but sometimes they aren’t willing to commit their whole life to their job like a lot of men do.”

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