The Edmond Sun

Our View

May 6, 2011

Kern reprimand creates complications

EDMOND — This week’s 76-16 vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to reprimand one of its own marks the third such reprimand this year. The censure against Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was perhaps the most difficult of the three to decide because this marks one of the first instances of censure in recent memory based on a moral and ethical line and less on an instance of breaking a written code of conduct. Typically reprimands have come from physical threats or criminal conduct.

Kern’s remarks during House debate in regard to blacks and women and their purported work ethic are without a doubt inappropriate comments from any educated and professional person. It’s even more concerning that a female educator who has had to work hard to attain her professional success should be so demeaning to other women. This Community Editorial Board cannot imagine the disappointment felt by Kern’s former students, many of whom must be wondering if it’s them she might be labeling in her broad-brush statements.

Kern could have and should have made her points without referencing race or gender.

We appreciate that Kern asked for public forgiveness and apologized for her tactless remarks. Edmond’s Rep. Randy Grau and Rep. Jason Murphey both voted against the reprimand based on their belief that it’s a slippery slope to reprimand representatives for comments protected by the First Amendment, while noting that they do not condone the content of those comments. Whether citizens like it or not the First Amendment protects speech that is hateful.

Grau’s and Murphey’s argument has merit, especially in light of the fact that legislators have immunity under state law for what they say while on the House floor.

The line that Kern crossed is a moral and ethical issue. If the House of Representatives wants to continue to reprimand legislators for saying hateful, hurtful and stupid things, then it should implement a true code of conduct that encompasses moral and ethical issues so that all legislators are on notice to be more careful with their speech. Otherwise, it’s open season on legislators never knowing when they might be misinterpreted or called to task. Even legislators have the right to be wrong now and again. We just hope Rep. Kern will remember in the future the power of words and their ability to do harm.

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