Bleeding Kansas returns: Gov. Brownback reinstates LGBT discrimination

One-man tea-party wrecking crew? Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback

One-man tea-party wrecking crew? Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback

(Orlin Wagner / AP)

Those who remember their high school U.S. history classes will recognize “Bleeding Kansas” as a reference to that territory’s violent fight over slavery in 1854-61, during the run-up to the Civil War.

Sam Brownback, the current Republican governor of Kansas, seems determined to repeat that tragedy as farce. As least, it would be farce if his policies weren’t so destructive to the the health and welfare of the state’s citizens.

Brownback’s latest stunt is to abolish state employees’ protections against job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In an executive order Tuesday, Brownback reversed a 2007 order by his Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, that had brought state anti-discrimination policies in line with most of corporate America and 31 other states.

The right-wing governor attempted to clothe his action in the mantle of good administrative procedure -- he said Sebelius should have acted through the legislature, rather than on her own -- but it more resembles the death rattle of public bigotry.

Brownback overturned an important anti-discrimination policy in the same week that Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore defied a federal court order legalizing gay marriage in his state. These men are both on the wrong side of history, and they know it. Like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, they act in vain.


Of the two, Brownback appears to be the more cynical by far. He offers no explanation for why he needed to act on LGBT policy now, in the fifth year of his tenure as governor and following his narrow reelection victory in November. Sebelius issued her executive order eight years ago.

Brownback has a history of vindictive behavior -- remember his attempt in 2011 to intimidate and punish a high school senior for her disparaging tweet about him? To rescind out of the blue an anti-discrimination policy for Kansas citizens that has been in effect for nearly a decade is nothing short of vicious. Civil rights advocates are properly aghast.

“This executive order was the only thing in Kansas protecting those people,” Doug Bonney, the ACLU of Kansas legal director, told my colleague Matt Pearce.

Possibly, Brownback is hoping to deflect attention from the disastrous condition of the Kansas state budget, which has been hollowed out by Brownback’s extremely aggressive tax-cutting. Income tax receipts continue to fall below Brownback’s rolling projections -- the latest estimates show them coming in 2% below forecast made just last November.

Tax receipts for the first seven months of this fiscal year are lower by $355 million, or 11%, than they were at the same point in 2012. The consequences are dire for discretionary state programs, such as education and Medicaid, which face cuts of 30% in their budgets, according to local reports.

This wouldn’t be necessary, of course, if the growth that Brownback and his advisors -- among them the notorious Arthur Laffer -- predicted would result magically from those tax cuts had come to pass.

It hasn’t. As we reported last year, job growth in Brownback’s Kansas lags its neighbors, the U.S. as a whole, and more fiscally intelligent states such as California. (See accompanying graphic.) The Kansas City Star reported last month that the state’s job growth had actually slowed since the 2013 enactment of Brownback’s tax-cutting package, lagging that of 37 other states, including neighboring Missouri.

The economic suffering that Brownback’s policies have imposed on Kansans is bad enough; to add to the pain by removing protections against workplace harassment over sexual orientation is a new low.

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