Prior to the reprimand, Kern gave an emotional apology for her words, which came on the House floor during debate on a constitutional amendment that would do away with affirmative action programs for state employment, education and contracting.
Kern said in response to one lawmaker citing a statistic of the number of black people in prison: “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? And white people often times don’t want to work hard in school or Asians often times, but a lot of time that’s what happens. I taught school for 20 years, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t want to work as hard. They wanted it given to them. Matter of fact, I had one student that said, ‘I don’t need to study. You know why? The government’s going to take care of me.’”
Later during the debate, Kern said of women: “I’m not saying women don’t work hard. … 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.”
Kern’s comments were blasted by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as well as Democrats in the Legislature.
Kern had issued a written apology last week, and during a closed-door meeting Friday of the conservative High Noon Club at H&H Gun Range in Oklahoma City.
On Monday, Kern stood before the House and offered her apology.
“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,” Kern aid. “That was not my intent, but sadly it happened, and I take full responsibility for it, and I’m truly sorry.”
Kern said she asked House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, to allow her to make the apology “because it is the right thing to do.”
“While my words were very hurtful, they do not represent my heart and my actions of the past 60-plus years. I’m apologizing today because it’s a biblical principle to do so,” Kern said. “In Matthew 5: 23-24 it says if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. I want to be able to worship the Lord with a clear conscience, and I know there are those who have something against me because of my words, and so I’m publicly offering my apology and asking for your forgiveness.”
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, offered the measure reprimanding Kern for her remarks and placing the comments in the legislative record.
Kern asked that the measure be approved by unanimous consent, but some House members objected to the reprimand, but it ended up passing.
Steele issued a statement on Kern’s apology: “Rep. Kern understands the harm caused by her comments and has apologized for making those comments in a genuine, heartfelt way. She knows her words were wrong and will never be forgotten, but she has done the right thing by apologizing and accepting this necessary reprimand.”