Kansas hung onto a well-earned reputation for its behind-the-times approach to so many things when Gov. Jeff Colyer declined to say whether he would reinstate an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT state workers.
Colyer’s decision to remain mum has him siding with his predecessor, former Gov. Sam Brownback. And it has him at odds with the approach that another former governor, Kathleen Sebelius, took in 2007.
It was Sebelius who took the needed step of directing state agencies to prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Brownback repealed that executive order in 2015. His decision means that state agencies today can deny a job to applicants just because they are gay, lesbian or transgender.
In America in 2018, that’s just appalling and another glaring reason for the businesses that Republicans so ardently court to bypass the state when it comes to relocations or expansions.
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Statehouse denizens had been waiting for Colyer to finally address the issue, and when he did, he got tripped up by the facts. Colyer told reporters that Kansas law contained the same provisions prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers as the executive order that Brownback repealed.
But that’s not true. Kansas has no such law, and federal law doesn’t prohibit it, either. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law does prohibit same-sex sexual harassment, but that’s something different.
After promising a new tone in Topeka, Colyer continues to do the election-year shuffle on this issue. Asked last week why he won’t sign an executive order, which is viewed as having the force of law, Colyer said, “It is the policy; it is the law of Kansas. We will not be dealing with these things.”
Again, though, he’s wrong.
Colyer’s erroneous response appears intentional and carefully calculated. Since taking office a few weeks ago, Colyer has signed executive orders designed to increase transparency and combat sexual harassment (which doesn’t apply to employer discrimination). All that was aimed at separating himself from the more than seven years he served as Brownback’s lieutenant governor.
Now, though, Colyer is in a desperate struggle against fellow Republican Kris Kobach and others for the GOP gubernatorial nomination up for grabs in August. Signing an executive order on LGBT discrimination threatens to turn off far-right social conservatives who consistently turn out in party primaries.
This suggests Colyer is playing politics on an issue of vital importance to thousands of state workers across Kansas.
Colyer puts lipstick on this pig-of-a-decision by declaring that he won’t tolerate discrimination.
“If there’s an issue of discrimination, come to me,” he said. “We’ll deal with it. It is not tolerated by our administration. Period.”
Then why not go ahead and sign the order?
That removes any ambiguity and codifies these protections. As Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said, reinstatement of the executive order is needed “for us to be sure” what the state’s commitment is.
Colyer surely understands the ramifications of what he’s doing. But in his mind, votes in August apparently trump protections to vital state workers today. That’s a shame.
So much for Colyer’s much ballyhooed “new tone.”