Gov. Kasich accused of trying to score 'political points' in transgender policy change

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich addresses supporters at a town hall event on the campus of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia February 23, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate John Kasich addresses supporters at a town hall event on the campus of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia February 23, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Tami Chappel)

A conservative group is accusing Ohio Gov. John Kasich of trying to “score political points on the way out the door” by issuing an executive action this week to ban gender identity discrimination in state employment.

Kasich, the 66-year-old two-term governor and former Republican candidate for president, signed what has been reported as a “surprise” executive order on Wednesday afternoon just weeks before the end of his governorship.

The order bans state government agencies from discriminating against trans-identified people for employment.

The order effectively rescinds a 2011 order Kasich signed when he first got into office that removed gender identity from the state employment nondiscrimination policy enacted under former Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland in 2007.

Like past orders, this order also bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, and other social identifiers.

“The governor continues to be opposed to discrimination in state employment, and this order reflects how he believes that policy should be implemented,” Kasich’s press secretary Jon Keeling said, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

While the move has been praised by LGBT activists and supporters, the order has been deemed “unnecessary” by Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, Ohio’s social conservative family policy council.

“Unless his administration was rampantly firing individuals with gender dysphoria, the only purpose of his latest executive action is to score political points on the way out the door,” Baer said in a statement. “There is no evidence that this kind of discrimination is happening in state government today.”

Kasich's signing of the order came after LGBT activist group Equality Ohio sent Kasich letters “with stories from LGBTQ Ohioans about their experiences with discrimination throughout the year.” Additionally, the group asserts that it had found “opportunities to grow his familiarity with transgender people and their lives.”

“We worked behind-the-scenes with our friends at TransOhio to lay the foundation for this action to take place while he was in office,” an Equality Ohio press release explains.

Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum told The Columbus Dispatch that Kasich “heard this call.”

“[W]e are grateful for Gov. Kasich’s leadership in extending nondiscrimination protections for transgender state employees,” Jochum said.

Baer, however, argues that “most Ohioans” would prefer Kasich to keep “his priorities focused on what’s best for Ohio” over the final days of his governorship rather than “looking to endear himself to the coasts for his next political run.”

LGBT supporters are calling on the Ohio legislature to pass broader LGBT discrimination protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Only time will tell what step the state’s incoming governor, Republican Attorney Gen. Mike DeWine, will take in regard to Kasich’s new order. DeWine touts himself as a social conservative who's endorsed by the likes of the Washington, D.C.-based social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council.

DeWine, who has served in both the House and Senate, fought to defend Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage even after a federal court ruled against the state policy in 2014.

In an endorsement statement issued in September, FRC President and leading social conservative activist Tony Perkins assured that DeWine will be “a dedicated advocate for limited government, for individual liberties, and for strong family values."

Joshua Eck, a spokesperson for DeWine’s transition team, told The Columbus Dispatch that the governor-elect will review “all executive orders ahead of transition.”

“[He] will make decisions on them on or around Inauguration Day,” Eck explained.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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