Editor’s note: This version of the story has been updated to clarify House Speaker Ray Merrick’s view of the governor’s executive order. Merrick said he had not taken a position.
TOPEKA — House Speaker Ray Merrick said Friday that Gov. Sam Brownback had a right to rescind a protection for gay and lesbian state workers, but also said later that he did not think someone should be fired for being gay.
The Eagle asked Merrick, R-Stilwell, for his view on Brownback’s recent executive order Friday morning as he entered the House chamber.
“I think the governor’s got a right to do whatever he wants to do,” Merrick said. He then criticized former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who blasted Brownback’s move Thursday.
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About an hour later, Merrick’s office requested a second interview so the speaker could clarify his remarks.
“I don’t want you reading anything into what I had to say,” Merrick said in the second interview in his office.
“The governor didn’t ask me, didn’t talk to me, didn’t communicate with me on that issue. I had no input. I don’t have an opinion. The governor does what the governor wants to do,” he said. “He didn’t tell me ahead of time … and I haven’t talked to him since about the issue.”
Brownback’s executive order means that state workers can now be fired for being gay or transgender.
“As far as that goes, some state workers might get hit by a car tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Merrick said when asked about this possibility.
When pressed, Merrick said state workers should not be fired for their sexual orientation. “I don’t think that should be a criteria for getting rid of anybody, you know,” Merrick said. “There’s a lot of reasons to get rid of people, and there’s a lot of reasons not to get rid of people. I don’t think that should be a valid reason for getting rid of anybody.”
In each interview, Merrick criticized Sebelius, who established the anti-discrimination policy in 2007 through executive order.
“And I think Kathleen Sebelius ought to – she’s not governor anymore – it takes a lot of (nerve),” Merrick said in the first interview. “She didn’t do a real good job on the health care thing in Washington, D.C. She should probably go back there and leave Kansas alone now.”
(AUDIO): House Speaker Ray Merrick comments on Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to rescind a protection for gay state workers Friday morning:
Sebelius was asked about Brownback’s rollback during an appearance at the Dole Institute for Politics at the University of Kansas on Thursday evening. She called the move distressing.
“I have no idea why the governor felt compelled, eight years after an executive order was issued, to rescind an executive order that, from all I could tell, seemed to be working very well,” she said, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. “I have no idea what problem he was trying to solve.”
Merrick served as House majority leader during Sebelius’ second term and has talked with The Eagle before about his rocky relationship with the Democrat. He accused her of behaving disrespectfully toward Republican lawmakers and spending money “like a drunken sailor” during an interview in September.
“She’s history,” Merrick said in the second interview. “And as such I don’t think her opinion carries a lot of weight anymore.”
(AUDIO): House Speaker Ray Merrick, in a second interview, clarifies his views on Brownback’s recent executive order:
When the governor unveiled his executive order, he said Sebelius erred by acting unilaterally in establishing the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and that any changes to the state’s anti-discrimination policies should be enacted by the Legislature instead.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, has introduced a bill, HB 2323, that would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT Kansans in both the public and private sector. Similar protections exist for race and religion.
Merrick said he had not read Carmichael’s bill and declined to comment before seeing it. He said he would review it in the future.
Last year, the House passed a bill that would have allowed public and private workers to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds. The bill spurred international backlash and was scuttled by Senate leaders.
Merrick later expressed regret for putting the bill to a vote on the House floor.