Profile: Kris Steele
Kris Steele was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature approves a bill outlawing affirmative action programs in that state. The proposal would prohibit special treatment based on race or sex in public employment, education, or contracts. Supporters say it would underscore the importance of equality, even though no preferences are now given for jobs, contracts, or college admission. Critics say the proposal plays on racial fears. It will appear on the 2012 ballot for approval by voters. [Associated Press, 4/6/2011] Explaining why he sponsored the bill, T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) says: “I believe discrimination exists. I don’t think affirmative action has been as successful as we like to believe.” However, Shannon’s colleague Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) has her own explanation: blacks do not work as hard as whites and have less initiative. Kern says: “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 says women earn less than men because “they tend to spend more time at home with their families.” One of the opponents of the bill, Mike Shelton (D-Oklahoma City), says: “This body will quote the Bill of Rights and then talk about Muslims every day. They’ll talk about illegal immigrants every day. They’ll talk about homosexuals. Oklahoma is a great state—as long as you fit the profile.” [Tulsa World, 4/27/2011] Think Progress reporter Alex Seitz-Wald writes of Kern, “[H]er bigoted comments reflect a disturbing trend among even mainstream conservatives to blame valuable social safety net programs for creating a culture of dependency or even ‘slavery.’” [Think Progress, 4/28/2011] The Oklahoma House speaker, Republican Kris Steele, refuses to reprimand Kern, saying that a written apology she issues is enough. On May 2, the House votes to reprimand Kern anyway, led by Shelton, who will say: “We are trying to be a player within the United States as well as the world. The comments by Sally Kern make us step back and it makes people look at the state of Oklahoma as a different place.” Republican Paul Wesselhoft is harshly critical of the reprimand, saying it “flies in the face of every Sunday school lesson I’ve ever had. Kern issued a sincere apology. My faith teaches me that I’m to forgive.” Republican Randy Grau will say that the reprimand may have a “chilling effect on free speech.” [Think Progress, 5/3/2011] Three years ago, Kern said on the Oklahoma House floor that homosexuality was more dangerous than terrorism; she was not reprimanded (see March 3-27, 2008).
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