By John Celock
Saying she wants to change the image of her state and further a national campaign, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) has launched a new advocacy effort for LGBT rights.
Sebelius, the former U.S. health and human services secretary, said the new video campaign called Defend Love For All is designed to promote LGBT rights, particularly non-discrimination efforts both within Kansas and nationwide, along with promoting a new video advocacy service, Jogg.co. She said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) decision earlier this year to repeal an executive order she enacted adding sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes within the state workforce helped motivate her to launch her new effort.
“It started with some real interests among activists in Kansas and young people, including my son, who were frustrated with the portrayal of Kansas as being out of step with the country and the times,” Sebelius told The Celock Report. “I think we were part disappointed and horrified when Governor Brownback chose to repeal an executive order that had been in place for seven years. To my knowledge it had not caused a problem for anyone.”
Brownback repealed the executive order, which Sebelius signed in 2007, in February saying that he believed that protected classes in the state workforce should be enacted via legislation and not by executive order. Immediately following Brownback’s actions, state Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) announced that he planned to file legislation restoring sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The legislation remains pending in the state Legislature.
“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a statement in February. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action. The order also reaffirms our commitment to hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”
A Brownback spokeswoman declined to comment on Sebelius’ new effort, noting that she was not familiar with the former governor’s efforts.
Kansas Republican Party executive director Clayton Barker told The Celock Report that the party stands behind Brownback’s previous statements with regards to the policy change.
“The governor’s previous statement speaks for itself – creation or expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be left to the elected representatives of the people, not to the whim of the executive,” he said.
Kansas had been one of seven states nationally to have sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes by executive order when Brownback made the policy change. Five states have executive orders in place establishing sexual orientation as protected classes in the state workplace by executive order. Other states extend the protection to both pubic and private employees via legislation.
Sebelius, who left the governor’s mansion in 2009 to join President Barack Obama’s cabinet, said that with the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on marriage equality this month there needs to be an effort to continue the LGBT rights campaign in the event marriage equality is legalized nationally by the court. Among the areas she said need to be addressed are employment protections for LGBT couples, along with erasing language from state laws that ban sodomy, a ban that has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. She said the goal of her new effort is to “mobilize like minded folks” around the country to make statements in support of LGBT rights.
She said that in addition to Brownback’s actions, she said that bills introduced this year in Indiana and Arkansas that would allow business owners to not serve a gay wedding if they had a religious objection caused her concern. The Indiana law was signed by Gov. Mike Pence (R) earlier this year but was later amended following national attention saying that the bill could have promoted discrimination. A similar bill died in Kansas in 2014.
“You can get married but if you put a picture of you and your spouse on your office desk, you are liable to be fired,” Sebelius told The Celock Report. “There is still a significant effort needed in states around the country, that there be a continued focus and act on the underlying laws.”
Kansas attempted to remove the sodomy ban from state law in 2011 but the provision was removed from the bill by state Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, then a Democrat who has long opposed LGBT issues. Pauls became a Republican last year before her successful reelection campaign.
Sebelius said the Jogg.co platform appealed to her as a way to start the Defend Love For All campaign. She said it will allow others to respond to her call by sharing their stories via a short video. She said the platform would allow for a new method of social media advocacy, which she said could mobilize a grassroots effort.
“This is trying out the cutting edge technology and see if it is capable of being used in this effort and other efforts going forward in an easy and inexpensive way to get real people’s voices and stories involved,” Sebelius said. “Using video in a way that hasn’t been available before.”
Sebelius stepped down as HHS secretary last year following a rocky tenure marked by technology issues surrounding the implementation of Obamacare. Since leaving the Obama cabinet, Sebelius has kept a low public profile, consulting and appearing several times last year for Democrat Paul Davis, who narrowly lost to Brownback in the gubernatorial race. The Defend Love for All campaign marks a return to the public stage for Sebelius.
Sebelius did not mince words on her opinion of Brownback and Republicans in the state. She characterized the repeal of the executive order as “solving a problem that Kansas didn’t have and ignoring the problems that are real and very much in the public focus.” She said she believes Kansans want a focus from the state on fiscal responsibility and education, which she said is not coming from Brownback and Republican legislative leaders. She also criticized the civil war raging between conservative and moderate Republicans, saying that conservatives wanted to “eliminate anyone” who opposed them. In 2012, conservative Republican candidates – backed by Brownback and his allies – defeated many moderate Republicans in primaries, a trend that continued in 2014.
Republicans have long criticized Sebelius’ record in state government, saying that she raised taxes and made cuts to education spending while in office. Brownback allies have said that he has placed more focus on education, which Democrats and moderate Republicans have said is not the case.
Barker, responding on behalf of the state GOP, said that he did not give too much credence to Sebelius’ critique of Brownback and the GOP.
“The criticism by a former governor whose legacy was large cuts to public education, unsustainable growth in state government, and a virtually bankrupt public pension system and by a former secretary of HHS responsible for the Obamacare website fiasco – is simply not credible,” he said.
Sebelius said that she believes the state will move away from conservative Republican leaders and back to a governing coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, who had long held power in state government.
“I absolutely do,” Sebelius told The Celock Report. “Kansans are remarkably common sense folks who have a very long history of being leaders in women’s rights and human rights. It is a state founded by abolitionists and has a lot of historic roots of progressive populism that are still there.”
This article has been updated to include response from the Kansas Republican Party.