The leader of Mississippi’s black caucus said she is receiving threats for filing a resolution to expel a white legislator who last month said that supporters of removing Confederate statues ‘should be lynched.’
Sonya Williams-Barnes, a Democrat from Gulfport, sponsored a resolution filed Monday calling for a two-thirds “vote to permanently expel Representative Karl Oliver from the Mississippi House of Representatives due to the incendiary and racially offensive public statements he made regarding “lynching” of “leadership” responsible for removal of Confederate statues in New Orleans.”
The resolution cites a section of the Mississippi constitution that states the House and Senate can punish members for “disorderly behavior,” and expel a member with a two-thirds vote.
Williams-Barnes told Mississippi Today that she later found a torn-up copy of that resolution on her desk in the House chamber.
“The actions of members as it pertains to tearing up the resolution and putting it on my desk shows that we have cowards failing to step forward and say what they feel,” she said.
“Members have different opinions about things all the time. It doesn’t call for threats such as saying ‘lynched’ or invading my personal space here on the floor or destroying property of the state — because that (resolution) was run off on the state’s paper — to prove a point to me,” Williams-Barnes said. “Come to me and tell me or make a statement. We all have that right.”
Oliver, a Republican from Winona, posted a screed on Facebook in late May apparently in response to the city of New Orleans removal of confederate monuments from public spaces.
“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.”
The comment was immediately met with bipartisan condemnation. Oliver issued an apology two days after writing the post, saying “I deeply regret that I chose this word.” Speaker Philip Gunn revoked Oliver’s vice chairmanship of the House Forestry committee.
Lawmakers returned to Jackson on Monday to consider several agency funding bills, but the Oliver episode and whether he would be subjected to a formal censure or other reprimand seemed to generate the most buzz.
Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, also introduced a resolution urging Oliver to resign but the Senate Rules Committee declined to take it up. In the House, Rules Committee Chairman Jason White, R-West, also said that he had no plans for his committee to meet and consider the resolution.
A spokeswoman for Gunn said she was working to get a response to a question from Mississippi Today about whether the speaker supports a formal legislative reprimand.
Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said he was speaking solely for himself and not as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and that he would not vote to expel Oliver.
“I think that expelling a member or even forcing a member to resign may be too far,” he said.
The resolution cites a section of the Mississippi Constitution which states the House and Senate can punish members for “disorderly behavior,” and they can expel a fellow member with a two-thirds vote.
Baria condemned Oliver’s language and acknowledged that it was wrong and inappropriate, but would rather see the Winona lawmaker censured in some way or punished by the body as a whole, versus reprimanded solely by the speaker.
“Lets all be candid,” Baria said. “A vice chairmanship of a committee in the House of Representatives, having that taken away is not all that severe a punishment.”
Although he agreed that Oliver’s post warranted a collective form of punishment from the House as a whole, Baria said he probably would not vote in favor of expelling Oliver because he did not commit a crime.
“Expulsion can happen otherwise at the ballot box, and Representative Oliver has to deal with the fallout from what he’s done in 2019,” Baria said.
Oliver declined interview requests from a procession of reporters throughout the day, including Mississippi Today. However, an Associated Press reporter, Emily Pettus, reported that Oliver said he was apologizing to individual African American lawmakers.
One of them was Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, who told Mississippi Today that she couldn’t recall the details of Oliver’s apology to her earlier in the day. Despite Oliver’s mea culpa, Wooten said she supports the position of the black caucus — that he should resign.
“There’s a difference to me between having that mindset and being vocal about it. Everybody in here has different mindsets. Of course you can tell I have mind, but would I be able to say something like that?” Wooten said. “We couldn’t say something like that to them (white lawmakers). It’s not fair for him to be able to say it either.”
Williams-Barnes, the black caucus chairwoman, said she plans to address the threat she received in a point of personal privilege on the House floor either after the dinner break or when lawmakers return Tuesday morning.
Contributing: Kayleigh Skinner, Adam Ganucheau