To recount an especially harrowing 24-hour period in Sam Brownback’s Kansas, we begin not at sunup but just before 3 p.m. on Tuesday. That’s when word broke that the governor was rescinding an eight-year-old order granting protection against job discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens who work for state agencies.
Even the most vigilant Brownback watchers had not seen this one coming. While other states are expanding protections for those citizens, Brownback was cruelly rewinding the clock.
If the governor intended his move as a distraction from Kansas’ dire financial straits, he succeeded brilliantly.
Liberals huffed about intolerance, and even some conservatives seemed uncomfortable with harassment against a particular group of Kansans. But Brownback thrives in the culture wars. Social media excoriated him all night long, but the governor wrapped himself in righteousness and no doubt slept like a baby.
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Wednesday morning arrived, and the sun wasn’t quite shining in Kansas, as Brownback famously asserted during his campaign. The weather was partly cloudy and the state was altogether broke.
But the gleaming Capitol in Topeka slowly came to life.
In one hearing room, local elected officials filled every chair and pressed their backs against the wall. Some had driven for hours to testify in opposition to a proposal to move city, county and school board elections from the spring to the fall and have candidates run on party tickets, rather than as nonpartisans.
Coupled with a push by GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach for straight-ticket voting, the measures are part of a plan by Brownback and others to further consolidate Republican electoral clout in Kansas.
Proponents received nearly an hour to testify, by which time members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee were drifting away for other engagements. Committee Chairman Mitch Holmes called the meeting to a close less than 20 minutes into opponents’ testimony.
“Sorry it came out this way,” he said, and suggested that folks who couldn’t stick around for a resumption of the hearing on Thursday could try to buttonhole committee members in the hallway.
In another meeting room, the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs convened a two-day hearing on strengthening marriage.
Wichita Republican Steve Brunk, the chairman, thinks the institution is declining, leading to a “degeneration of the culture.” He invited testimony from conservative Christian groups, a university professor from Minnesota and from Phyllis Gilmore, Brownback’s secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
By the second day, conversation would veer sharply toward condemnation of single-parent families. But in the beginning, legislators seemed mostly perplexed about why they were there.
The afternoon brought a hearing on proposals to change the way judges are chosen for the Kansas Supreme Court. Instead of a nominating commission screening candidates and forwarding finalists for vacancies to the governor, conservative lawmakers favor either choosing judges by partisan elections or having the governor unilaterally appoint them.
These proposals, like the election changes, are about fortressing conservative Republican rule.
In this 24-hour time frame, I spotted only one totally positive development: a hearing on a bill allowing full-strength alcoholic beverages to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. This comes up annually, only to be killed by liquor store owners. But some think Kansas might emerge from the backwater this year.
Let’s hope so. With all the bad stuff going on in Sam Brownback’s Kansas, the Legislature could at least make the temporary palliatives easily accessible.