Calls rise for resignation, punishment of Rep. Oliver

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Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona

Fallout continued Tuesday for Rep. Karl Oliver over his weekend Facebook post which advocated lynching those responsible for removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans.

Oliver apologized and removed the post on Monday, after Republicans ranging from Gov. Phil Bryant to House Speaker Philip Gunn chastised him for his use of hate language.

The post led to a firestorm of protest on social media and condemnation from both Democratic and Republican colleagues in state government.

The Mississippi NAACP called for the Winona Republican’s “immediate resignation” Wednesday in a statement.

“While Oliver is entitled to his opinions as a citizen, he is not entitled to use the power of his office to force those opinions on others,” Mississippi State Conference NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “As a state representative, Mr. Oliver influences public policy that affects all Mississippians and hate-filled statements like these have no place at the state capitol.”

Oliver declined to comment when reached by phone and asked whether he planned to resign.

“Members of the MS legislature already struggle to work across party, racial and gender lines,” Legislative Black Caucus Chairperson Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, D-Gulfport said in a statement. “Rep. Oliver’s continued presence in the legislature would deter  and diminish any further progress among members.”

On Saturday evening, Oliver posted on Facebook that Louisiana leaders who are involved in the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans “should be LYNCHED!” In a statement Monday, he said he regretted his choice of words.

His Facebook profile was deleted sometime after. It was no longer available on the social media site Tuesday.

“Anyone who champions a fond remembrance of such a violent, racist history is unworthy of elected office,” Johnson said in the NAACP’s statement. “Karl Oliver must step down as he cannot in good faith represent all of the citizens of Mississippi.”

The ACLU also spoke out Tuesday, putting the onus on state officials to consider additional discipline of Oliver.

“The ACLU of Mississippi calls upon Governor Bryant, Speaker Phillip Gunn, and the Committee on Ethics of the House of Representatives to initiate a preliminary investigation of this statement as a violation of the Code of Ethics, other House Rules, and written policy of the House adopted by the Management Committee, statute, or Constitution,” state ACLU Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins said in a statement.

“If accountability means anything, Oliver should be held to account by his peers – unless they are comfortable with the opinions he expressed,” Riley-Collins said.

On Monday, Gunn told reporters he called Oliver and told him to take down the post and apologize. He also revoked Oliver’s vice-chairmanship of the House Forestry committee.

Like the ACLU, lawmakers believe that punishment is insufficient.

Mississippi House

Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Moss Point

“While forced to apologize by leadership, it is not enough. I am officially joining the call for Representative Karl Oliver’s immediate resignation,” Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Moss Point, posted on Twitter Tuesday.

His tweet also called for the Attorney General’s office to open an investigation to determine whether Oliver broke any laws.

It is illegal to threaten a person online, but Oliver’s post referred to “leadership,” not any specific individual.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s spokesperson, Margaret Ann Morgan, told Mississippi Today on Tuesday “we’ve evaluated his comments and although they are offensive, they don’t rise to the level of prosecution.”

“Section 97-29-45 (1)(b) of the Mississippi Code makes it a crime to use electronic means to threaten a person or his/her property,” Morgan said on Monday. “Although this particular electronic communication did not arise to a crime by conveying a specific threat to a person, this is a good opportunity to remind people to think before posting comments on social media.”

Although the Attorney General won’t press charges, Grenada-based attorney Carlos Moore filed a complaint against Oliver, Rep. Doug McLeod, Rep. John Read, and Tony Dunn with the Mississippi Highway Patrol in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. McLeod, Read, and Dunn each liked Oliver’s post.

Moore also has a pending lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bryant to remove the state flag.

The suit filed Tuesday states the post “was intended as a threat to have Mr. Moore LYNCHED for his diligent and persistent efforts” to have the state flag removed.

The Clarion-Ledger also called for Oliver’s resignation in an editorial.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi Democratic Party issued a statement denouncing the Facebook post, saying Oliver’s “comments as to even the threat of lynching are inflammatory, not becoming of an elected official, and have no place for conversation in our Mississippi.”

The statement did not push for a resignation. House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said he intends to have a discussion with party members before that decision is made.

“I have not gone so far as to call for his resignation because I feel like that is something that I need to discuss with my caucus before I do that,” Baria said.

Contributing: Kate Royals