Steve Rose

Gov. Sam Brownback’s order to rescind ban on LGBT bias adds to Kansas’ image problem

Gov. Sam Brownback’s order in February to rescind protections for LGBT state employees might have sent a disturbing signal to companies thinking about relocating to the state.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s order in February to rescind protections for LGBT state employees might have sent a disturbing signal to companies thinking about relocating to the state. The Associated Press

Here’s a place to cut in the Kansas budget: Why not eliminate the marketing expenses at the Department of Commerce?

After all, Kansas is doing such a lousy job of public relations throughout the country, it is a waste of time and money to try to put on a good face.

Take, for example, a CEO of an out-of-town firm of 300 employees who is looking at metropolitan Kansas City as a possible site to relocate. According to a regional economic development executive, the Kansas side was scratched because of the state’s discriminatory policies regarding lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender individuals.

In case you missed it, earlier this year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an executive order rescinding a ban on discrimination of LGBT individuals who work for the state, thus repealing an order issued by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, which protected them from harassment or outright discrimination.

Said the regional economic development executive: “Any policies that tend to restrict a company’s abilities to draw the widest talent is a negative. When government can suggest they have a problem with certain types of people, they are eliminating an entire opportunity for a company to cast the widest net for talented employees.”

Blake Schreck, president of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce, who is in charge of economic development for that city, said the state’s LGBT policy “is not helpful from a national perspective. Companies want to be perceived as inclusive, and they think we are going in the wrong direction. A policy like that can take us off the list.”

The stated goal of the governor is to create lots and lots of jobs by adding small businesses. Well, it takes lots of small businesses to equal 300 employees who will never come to Kansas, so long as its discriminatory policy is in place.

Kansas has stubbed its toe, or maybe shot itself in the foot.

Television comedy hosts are having a heyday with Kansas. Some say we have become a laughingstock.

The state has become famous, not only for its LGBT policies, but for allowing Kansans to carry guns without even a hint of training. I recall all the weapons training I had in basic training, before shipping off to Vietnam, and I cannot understand how we can let people walk around with guns, who may never have fired a pistol in their lives.

When Americans hear about that, they wonder what kind of state is Kansas?

Or how about a recent Kansas law that prohibits welfare recipients from taking cruises with their welfare payments? Unless they are taking one-day cruises to Nassau, how many welfare recipients can afford to go on a multi-day cruise in the Caribbean? It seems patently ridiculous.

There was a time, not long ago, when Kansas had a stellar reputation.

Companies used to ask about the labor force, education, quality of life, utilities, transportation, real estate and other important things. Taxes were also in the equation, but nowhere near the top.

Now, they hear about absurd policies. They also hear about irresponsible tax slashing, leading to cuts in K-12 education. Surely, that must give pause to any business owner or executive when deciding whether to move to Kansas.

I understand that to undo those pieces of legislation is nearly impossible because the Legislature would never back off.

But the LGBT policy was a one-man executive order.

It is not too late for Brownback to do the right thing — rescind his discriminatory LGBT policy. He can do that immediately, without any input from the Legislature. He picked a fight that was unnecessary and sent a signal to the nation that Kansas is mean-spirited and insensitive.

Brownback says he is a compassionate conservative. For economic development reasons and for moral reasons, Brownback can show some compassion and, at the same time, put Kansas back on the map for companies looking for a welcoming place to make their home.

To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to srose@kc.rr.com.

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