Rep. Sally Kern, who infuriated homosexuals with comments she made three years ago, apologized Thursday for statements she made Wednesday against women and black people during a debate on affirmative action.
“I want to humbly apologize for my statements last night about African-Americans and women,” Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said in a statement. “I believe that our government should not provide preference based on race or gender. I misspoke while trying to convey this point last night during debate.”
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said he called Kern to express his concerns, but he will not ask her to step down.
“I told her I disagree with her comments,” Steele said. “She's done the right thing in issuing that apology. ... I do think the apology is sufficient.”
Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP, said the apology is not enough.
He said Kern should resign immediately.
“You cannot commit racism and then offer an apology for the racist statement that you make,” Douglas said. “The citizens of Oklahoma, the constituents can no longer stand by and allow this type of action to happen.
“Her constituents in her district should call for her to step down unless ... they support her in what she's saying,” he said. “We'll continue to call for her to step down.”
What did she say?
During a debate Wednesday night on the House of Representatives floor, Kern said minorities earn less than white people 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 ballot measure that would allow the state to not abide by affirmative action guidelines.
SJR 15 would ask people to vote on barring discrimination by state agencies. It would prohibit any official action that discriminates against or gives preferential treatment to minority communities. Set-asides, which favor contract bids made by firms owned by minorities, would be illegal under the proposal.
Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, who presented the measure, said it's fundamentally unfair to have two separate standards. Affirmative action policies send a wrong message to minorities, he said.
“It's not the remedy it was proposed to be, and it's time to move past,” said Shannon, one of four blacks in the 101-member House.
The biggest problem with SJR 15 is that no one truly understands what affirmative action is, said Tamya Cox, legislative counsel for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Affirmative action is any measure that considers race, gender, disability or veteran status to provide opportunities to qualified individuals who have historically been denied opportunities and to prevent continued discrimination,” she said.
“It is not, as many legislators suggested, a quota system.”
Douglas said he plans to meet with the governor and attorney general to voice the NAACP's concerns about SJR 15 and to see whether they can do anything to prevent it from being placed on next year's ballot.
Kern, who drew fire three years ago when she told an Oklahoma City Republican group that the homosexual agenda is a bigger threat than terrorism or Islam to America, said equal opportunity should be based on ability regardless of color and gender.
“What about personal initiative? What about personal drive? What about hard work?” she asked. “Doesn't that enter in somewhere?
“It's character that ought to count,” she said.
After Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, argued against the measure partly because one in four black males are in prison or on some type of probation, Kern asked, “Is this just because they're black that they're in prison, 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, reading from notes. “They wanted it given to them.”
On gender equality
Kern said she didn't worry about equal pay during her career. She said some studies show women are underpaid, but when actual hours worked and work hazards are factored in, women earn more than men.
“Women usually don't want to work as hard as a man,” Kern said. “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.”
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, 24, said discrimination still occurs against women. She said she and her brother applied for home loans about the same time; her loan took longer to process, and she had to make a larger down payment.
“I don't want a handout, and I don't think any woman does,” she said.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said, “I don't believe women have reached their equal rights in Oklahoma.”
Morrissette said it wasn't that long ago — 1965 — when separate water fountains were in place in downtown Oklahoma City for blacks and whites.
“Let's call it what it is,” he said of the measure. “Garbage.”