Democratic State Representative Andrés Cano, Arizona's youngest LGBTQ lawmaker, is calling for his Republican colleague Anthony Kern to resign a powerful committee chairmanship over comments he made disparaging LGBTQ rights.
Phoenix New Times reported on Thursday that Kern was recorded telling a group of Tea Party activists that "LGBTQ rights" could "take over" under Democratic rule. In the audio recording, created by the liberal Super PAC American Bridge, Kern also expressed an alarmist and distorted view of sex education in Arizona, comparing it to pornography.
"I can pull up, you know, Pornhub.com ... I could pull it up and show you anything on that porn site is what is going to be taught to your kids, your little kindergartners," he said.
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers this year appointed Kern as the chair of the Rules Committee, a gate-keeping body that determines the constitutionality of bills before they reach the House floor.
Cano said in a press release on Friday that Kern's anti-LGBTQ comments disqualify him from continuing to serve as Rules chairman.
"If Representative Kern is openly willing to suggest that LGBTQ rights are harmful to our state’s progress, then he is out of touch with Arizona’s business community, our civil rights leaders, and all Arizonans who seek equity and inclusion, rather than division, from our state lawmakers,” said Cano. "And to suggest that LGBT Arizonans are trying to indoctrinate kids with pornography is not only morally corrupt, it is dangerous. When you spread misinformation about vulnerable communities, you make them targets."
In a follow-up phone interview with New Times, Cano said he does not trust Kern to remain impartial on bills related to LGBTQ rights.
"Let's say the state were to hear a proposed non-discrimination bill? How is that possibly going to get a fair hearing when you have the chairman of the rules committee issuing comments like this?" Cano said.
It's unlikely that Kern will voluntarily resign his chairmanship. He declined to address his comments on LGBTQ rights when New Times asked for clarification. In response to questions about his comparison between pornography and sex education, Kern falsely claimed that Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman plans to distribute to students a 1994 illustrated health book that contains some drawings of people engaging in sexual activity.
That would leave it to House Speaker Rusty Bowers to remove Kern from his chairmanship. Bowers did not immediately respond to request for comment. The speaker, however, has also made specious comments about sexual education in Arizona, claiming Planned Parenthood supports sex ed curricula to sexualize children in order to increase STD and abortion rates, presuming such a trend would benefit the nonprofit financially.
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Kern's anti-LGBTQ comments also represent something of a litmus test for Bowers on what prejudices House Republicans are willing to tolerate.
Under Bowers' leadership, at least one Republican lawmaker has already faced consequences over comments about race. The speaker promptly stripped former Republican State Representative David Stringer of several committee positions after New Times published audio of him making racist comments, including a remark that African-Americans "don't blend in." (Stringer later resigned after refusing to cooperate with an ethics investigation into sex crime charges he faced in 1983, including child pornography, which were first revealed by New Times in January.)
This is not Kern's first controversy. The Glendale Republican previously faced criticism after New Times reported that he tried to change a law making it easier for police officers to remove their names from a list of dishonest cops. A former El Mirage code enforcement officer who was fired for lying to his supervisor, Kern failed to disclose that he was on the list.
While working for El Mirage, Kern was also accused in 2010 of sexually harassing a female subordinate, allegedly calling her an "overtime whore" and referring to himself as her "daddy" on multiple occasions.