While most states and the nation are moving forward on equality for citizens regardless of their sexual orientation, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has just rolled Kansas backward.
In a move Tuesday that was shocking and meanspirited, the Republican governor rescinded an eight-year-old order protecting state employees from harassment and discrimination stemming from sexual orientation or gender equality. The order, signed by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, applied to agencies under the governor’s direct control and at the time covered about 25,000 employees.
In rescinding Sebelius’ order, Brownback said state employees shouldn’t form a protected class, unless the Legislature decided to designate them as such.
He’s wrong about that. Most states have orders like the one Brownback just nullified, and so do countless employers, including more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies. It’s an executive function.
So much for Brownback’s hunger for job growth. His order only affects state workers, but progressive companies ought to think twice about moving employees to a state where a governor has just stripped rights from his own gay and lesbian employees. I think that they will.
Brownback’s move will also result in even more brain drain in state government. Many talented workers have already fled agencies because of the overtly politicized atmosphere that Brownback fostered in his first term. There is no money for raises. Why would hard-working staffers who happen to be gay or lesbian want to continue to serve a governor who just showed utter contempt for them?
Why do this now, at the start of Brownback’s second term? I’m certainly not a confidante, so I could only guess that Brownback is shoring up his support from the religious right in the face of intense opposition from moderates and liberals to his failed tax policies.
And who knows, maybe the governor finds it more pleasant to roll back protections for Kansans than to cut money from schools and universities. If nothing else, it makes for a momentary distraction from the fact that he’s driven the state into a fiscal wasteland.
Elections really do have consequences, and with his narrow re-election victory over Democrat Paul Davis, Brownback is imposing a harsh, intolerant regime on a state that used to value fair-mindedness.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.