The Oklahoma House of Representatives publicly reprimanded Rep. Sally Kern for comments she made during a debate on the House floor last week. Lawmakers were discussing a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate affirmative action in state government, a measure that then passed the chamber.
"We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic. But are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them," Kern said last week in a ten minute speech.
She also offered remarks on the work ethic of women, saying, "You see women usually don’t want to work as hard as man because women tend to think a little bit more about their families, wanting to be at home more time (and) have a little more leisure time."
Kern issued a written apology the next day, but was not disciplined. The Black Legislative Caucus condemned her comments and the Oklahoma NAACP called for her resignation. However, House Speaker Kris Steele felt that the apology was sufficient and that a public reprimand was not necessary. But Democratic lawmakers pressed the issue and successfully brought a motion to reprimand on Tuesday, after Kern made a tearful apology on the House floor.
Rep. Mike Shelton, one of four black representatives in the House, said he made the motion because Oklahoma is working hard to improve its image.
"We must recognize Oklahoma is changing and it’s changing fast," Rep. Shelton told the Tulsa World. "Our population is becoming more diverse and that we need to learn to be more accepting of others."
Sixteen representatives voted against the measure, and some had strong words of opposition. Rep. Randy Grau said that the reprimand "could have a very detrimental, chilling effect on free speech" and that it "flies in the face of every Sunday school lesson I’ve ever had."
Kern had previously gained national attention for her comments three years ago that homosexuality is the death knell of the country, and a bigger threat than terrorism or Islam, and for comparing homosexuality to toe cancer. She did not apologize and was not reprimanded for those remarks.