Kansas Speaker O’Neal plans return to Capitol as petition calls for resignation

01/16/2012 5:00 AM

01/16/2012 6:39 PM

Kansas Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal said Monday that he had no intention of resigning, after nearly 25,000 people have signed a petition asking him to do so.

O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the reaction over two e-mails sent from a personal account have taught him to be more respectful in his communications.

The petition drive focuses on an e-mail O’Neal sent carrying a Psalm some say wishes President Obama would die. That e-mail quoted a passage from the Bible, Psalm 109:8, which says, “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

O’Neal said he meant that to call for Obama to be defeated in the upcoming election.

But critics cite the next verse in the Psalm: “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”

“I understand the debate over the verse interpretation, about which I have explained and for which I have repeatedly apologized to the extent anyone misconstrued my intent or was otherwise offended,” O’Neal said in an e-mail Monday. “I respect both the president and the office.”

O’Neal said he forwarded the e-mail, which had been quoted on T-shirts, bumper stickers and across the Internet.

“We have to wonder if the speaker has even read the Psalm,” said Michael Sherrard of Faithful America, a nondenominational online forum based in Washington, D.C., that initiated the petitions for O’Neal’s resignation. “This is without question a passage calling for the death of a leader.”

Faithful America on Monday had collected nearly 22,000 signatures on its website and 2,700 on Sign-On.org. A local organization, Speak Out Kansas, worked an event at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex, handing out about 800 brochures directing people to the online petition, said group leader Monty Shaw.

O’Neal took heat earlier this month for making disparaging remarks about first lady Michelle Obama. O’Neal also apologized for that.

“It shows a lack of judgment from someone in leadership,” Sherrard said in a telephone interview.

O’Neal said comments in the online forum have made disparaging remarks about him, his family and staff.

“One has to be thick-skinned when serving in public office, but I’ve been disappointed with the over-the-top attacks, particularly those directed at family and associates,” O’Neal said. “Appropriate discourse is a two-way street and I, for one, intend to be more respectful and vigilant in my communications.”

Sherrard said Faith America is working with pastors in the Topeka area to deliver the petition to O’Neal’s office. The Capitol was closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day.

O’Neal said he had the support of his colleagues in the House and was planning to return to the legislative session after the holiday.

“I’ve been humbled by the support and understanding expressed by House members and look forward to getting back to work and staying focused on the many issues we have to consider here in Kansas,” he said.

One representative is pushing for sanctions against O’Neal when he returns to work.

Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, a member of the African-American legislative caucus, said she will push for the House to take collective action against O’Neal for the two e-mails. She did not specify what she would seek and said the caucus is working on a formal response.

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