Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern gives tearful apology, votes to reprimand herself for racist comment

Rep. Sally Kern

SEAN MURPHY | Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma House voted Monday to reprimand a state lawmaker who denigrated blacks and women during a debate on an affirmative action bill last week.

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, delivered a tearful apology on the House floor, then voted for her own reprimand as it passed on a 76-16 vote.

“Last Wednesday night while debating a bill, I said some words that were not well thought out and that offended many African Americans and many women,” said Kern, who fought back tears and quoted several Bible passages during her apology. “That was not my intent, but sadly it happened, and I take full responsibility for it and I’m truly sorry.

“While my words were not expressed well and implied things I did not mean, they were not spoken with any contempt or malice.”

Kern last week questioned whether there were disproportionately high numbers of blacks in state prisons because “they didn’t want to work hard in school.” She also said women don’t work as hard as men because they “tend to think a little bit more about their families.”

As some legislators groaned during her debate remarks, Kern added: “Women like to be willing to have a moderate work life with plenty of time for spouse and children and other things like that. That’s all I meant.”

A retired teacher serving her fourth two-year term in the House, Kern was criticized in 2008 after saying at a political forum that gay people posed a greater threat to the U.S. than terrorists. In 2009, she campaigned for a proclamation criticizing the government for drifting from traditional Christian values.

The president of the Oklahoma chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party both have called for Kern’s resignation. Her speech didn’t change their minds.

“I applaud her colleagues for stepping forward and doing the right thing,” said Oklahoma’s NAACP President Anthony Douglas.

Douglas said he planned to meet with community leaders before deciding whether to withdraw his request for her resignation.

The bill, which won final approval on a 59-14 vote, sets an election for next year on a proposed constitutional amendment to end discrimination and preferential treatment in state government hiring and contracting based on race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

Thirteen Republicans and three Democrats voted against Kern’s reprimand Monday.

“I just don’t think you should reprimand somebody for saying stupid things,” said Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond. “If we reprimanded people for every stupid thing that they said in debate or everything they said that offended somebody in that chamber, we would be doing reprimands all day long.”

Rep. Purcy Walker said he opposed the reprimand because he felt Kern’s apology was sincere.

“I don’t agree with what she said, but she was willing to come back and really give a sincere apology and get up in front of everybody and apologize,” said Walker, D-Elk City. “If we’re not willing to forgive others, than we’re not going to be forgiven. I guess it’s just a spiritual conviction that I have.”

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin said she believes the House took the right action in reprimanding Kern.

“When I was informed last week of Rep. Kern’s comments regarding African-Americans and women, I made it clear that day that I disagreed with those comments and found them inappropriate,” Fallin said in a statement. “It’s my hope that lawmakers can now put this unfortunate incident behind them and work together to address the many issues facing Oklahoma’s families and businesses.”

—  John Wright

No marriage vote in Maryland House today; Maryland delegate comes out as gay

Although some had expected the Maryland House of Delegates to vote today on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state, The Washington Blade is reporting that the vote won’t be happening today. However, a committee hearing on a measure to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today.

According to the Blade, the House has adjourned for the day, but not before supporters of the measure were able to kill four hostile amendments that would have weakened the bill or killed it outright.

One of the amendments would have allowed religious institutions to refuse to allow same-sex parents to adopt (defeated by those who pointed out it had nothing to do with marriage), while a second would have renamed the bill the Same-Sex Marriage Act.

A third amendment would have changed the measure into a constitutional amendment, thus forcing it back into committee where it would have died; and the fourth amendment would have allowed parents to take their children out of public school health classes including information on same-sex marriage and would have allowed teachers in public schools to refuse to include such information in their classroom curricula.

The House is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Del. Peter Murphy of Maryland, left, and former Texas state Rep. Glen Maxey

In other news out of the Maryland House, also from the Blade, Democratic Delegate Peter Murphy on Tuesday night publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Murphy, a divorced father of two with grandchildren, said that his family and colleagues have known he is gay for years, and that he has never denied his sexuality orientation. “I just presumed people knew,” he told the Washington LGBT paper.

Murphy’s announcement brings the total of openly LGBT Maryland delegates to seven. The state also has one openly gay senator.

Texas, by the way, has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker, and that was Glen Maxey who has been out of office since 2003. Maxey was first elected in 1991 to represent the Austin-area district that had previously been represented by Lena Guerrero. Before running for the House, Maxey was the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now known as Equality Texas), and since leaving public office, he has worked as a lobbyist and campaign consultant. He ran for Travis County tax assessor-collector in 2007, but lost the Democratic Primary to incumbent Nelda Wells Spears.

—  admin

Conservatives warn of backlash if Target gives in to gay pressure

MARTIGA LOHN  |  Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Conservative activists said Friday, Aug. 13 that Target Corp. won’t quell the controversy over its corporate donations if the retailer gives in to demands from the left to renounce involvement in political campaigns or to help gay-friendly candidates.

Charlie Weaver, a leader of a political organization supporting a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota, said the pressure from gays and liberal organizations on Target amounts to “thuggery.”

“This is simply an attempt to intimidate companies from doing what the Supreme Court said they’re entitled to do, exercise their free speech,” said Weaver, treasurer of MN Forward, a campaign group that got $150,000 from Target last month.

A GOP state lawmaker said the controversy, including protests and calls for a boycott by gay leaders, has put Target in a bind.

“They’re darned if they do something and they’re darned if they don’t,” said Rep. Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall.

Contributors to a conservative Facebook page on the controversy also warned the company of a backlash from the right.

“I will not boycott Target unless they crater to the demand of the gay activists,” said one writer. The page grew exponentially on Friday from fewer than 500 fans to more than 9,000 as the controversy moved into its third week.

The conservatives’ admonitions come as liberal groups demand that Target balance the earlier donation that helped GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, an outspoken critic of gay marriage. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s issued a statement of apology last week, and gay and liberal organizations have been negotiating with corporate officials for an equal donation or another concession.

Protesters have kept the pressure on by rallying almost daily outside Target’s Minneapolis headquarters or its stores since the donation became known.

The flap has revealed new implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling that appeared to benefit corporations by clearing the way for them to spend company funds directly on political campaigns. Target’s donation to a business-oriented group supporting Emmer was one of the first big corporate contributions to come to light after the decision.

The retail chain has gone from defending the donation as a business decision to apologizing and saying it would carefully review its future giving.

“Target is receiving criticism and frustration from their customers because they are doing something wrong, and that should serve absolutely as an example for other companies,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy for the liberal group MoveOn.org, which is pressing Target to formally renounce involvement in elections.

Criticism has also come from local government officials in San Francisco, one of the urban markets where Target plans to open new stores.

The company is in talks with the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. The group is also demanding donations from electronics retailer Best Buy Co., which gave $100,000 to the same group backing Emmer.

Fred Sainz, the group’s vice president for communications, said he is optimistic both companies will respond. Target has long cultivated a good relationship with the gay community in Minneapolis, and its gay employees have protested the political donation.

“The repair has to be consistent with the harm that was done,” Sainz said.

MN Forward is staffed by former insiders from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration and has also backed a few Democratic legislators. The group has continued to collect corporate money after the backlash against Target, bringing in $110,000 through Tuesday from businesses including Holiday Cos. gas stations and Graco Inc., a maker of pumps and fluid handling equipment. Weaver said the group’s sole focus is job creation, not social issues.

A Target spokeswoman said the company had nothing to add to Steinhafel’s statement of apology. Emmer has said he views the Target giving as an exercise in free speech and wants to keep his campaign focused on economic issues.

Conservatives are watching to see whether Target bends to the pressure, said Kelly O’Keefe, a brand expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

“They’re likely to raise the ire of a different constituency of customers and get themselves in a never-ending cycle of alienating people,” he said. “A better thing is for them to swear off any future investment in elections.”

—  John Wright