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.”