“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” — Old Klingon proverb.
On Tuesday, the governor of Kansas gave his State of the State speech. It was an unusual experience all around considering it was given by a person nobody expected to still be governor, including the governor himself.
Republican governor Sam Brownback was supposed to be long gone by the time the State of the State speech was to be delivered, having accepted a job last July as Ambassador at large for international Religious Freedom in the Trump administration.
But an action Brownback undertook in 2015 — rescinding an anti-discrimination protection for gay and transgender state workers that had been in place since 2007 — seems to have bottled up his confirmation in the U.S. Senate, where it still lies as an ongoing endeavor.
It is one of the more tortuous experiences in U.S. politics, to be nominated for an interesting and in some cases, dream job, at the federal level, only to have a small group of senators — maybe even only one or two if they are from the nominee’s home state — string you along like a cart-horse following a carrot.
This is what Kansas senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, Republicans, reportedly did to former Kansas attorney general Steve Six, an appointee of Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.
On March 8, 2011, Six was nominated by president Barack Obama to be a federal judge, went through hearings, and then was rejected by the two Republicans from his home state, Moran and Roberts. According to then-Senate Judiciary Committee chair, democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, Obama consulted Moran and Roberts before he nominated Six, and neither expressed strong opposition.
Whatever Roberts and Moran said to the Obama White House about Six, the president was led to believe that he had chosen a consensus nominee. Six went through the judicial hearing process. When the committee was ready to vote on whether to forward his nomination to the full senate, Roberts and Moran, as per Senate rules, put the kibosh on the whole thing, even though Six likely had the votes in the committee and likely had the votes in the full senate to receive confirmation. His nomination was returned to Obama on Dec. 17, 2011.
Speculation as to why Roberts and Moran did not strongly oppose Six when Obama first consulted them (other than the simple desire to torture the guy) centered on opposition to Six on the part of anti-abortion groups, which the senators apparently hadn’t counted on when he was nominated.
For his part, Committee Chair Leahy was not happy. He wrote Roberts, “This type of reversal of position by a home state senator on a nomination has rarely occurred,” and, “In my view, no new material information emerged during the course of our review of the nomination.”
In some ways, Brownback’s situation is reminiscent of the Six case.
What was supposed to be a pretty easy confirmation has turned into a controversial one. Not because any new information has necessarily emerged, but because special interests (in Six’s case, anti-abortion groups and in Brownback’s case, LGBQT protection groups) didn’t let the nomination slip under their radar and instead decided this was worth a fight.
Late in December, Moran said, “I don’t think there is any question that [Brownback] would be confirmed, but the process can take longer unless there is cooperation from all Senators.”
The delay in Governor Sam Brownback’s senate confirmation has turned into a national story. FOX News was in Topeka on Wednesday to report live from the statehouse lawn on the situation.
But if one knows the U.S. Senate, and one understands the power of certain cultural issues in the American political fabric, then it’s no surprise that Brownback’s decision to rescind the gay and lesbian protection order would raise a strong protest among national Democrats.
What is surprising, however, is that some Kansans seem to be in such a bubble that they didn’t see it coming.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka and a contributor to The Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.