Editorial: Colyer deserved loyalty from Brownback

Our longest-serving lieutenant governor is being denied his chance to lead the state

Gov. Sam Brownback handed major responsibilities over to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer in anticipation of Senate confirmation of a position as President Donald Trump’s ambassador at large for religious freedom. (March 2017 file photo/The Capital-Journal)

It appears that Gov. Sam Brownback is going to deliver the State of the State address after all — a move that reflects his decision to “remain governor until confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” After handing major responsibilities to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer in anticipation of his confirmation, the endless delays have forced Brownback to start governing the state again. We know, we know — he says he’s been in charge all along. But that simply isn’t true — why else was Colyer developing a budget and making high-level appointments at the end of November?

 

Brownback is clearly resolved to stay in office. He’ll submit a budget proposal next week, he’ll deliver the State of the State, he hired a new policy director, he just appointed an interim KDHE secretary and chief medical officer, and he recently asked interim commerce secretary Nick Jordan (who was planning to resign on Jan. 5) to stick around. There’s a reason we’re witnessing this influx of activity with only a few days to go before the legislative session begins: Brownback didn’t think he’d still be here in 2018.

If Brownback really wanted us to believe that Kansas didn’t have a “co-governorship” when he was preparing to depart for Washington, D.C., why wasn’t he making all of these important decisions a month ago? Because he wanted to present the illusion of authority without making any commitments that would hamper Colyer. But it’s clear that Colyer’s political future has never been his priority.

Make no mistake: With every day Brownback stays in office, Colyer loses valuable, vanishing time as the state’s chief executive.

He desperately needs to spend 2018 differentiating himself from Brownback, whose approval rating was 24 percent in October 2017. The Legislature will consider major issues like school finance this session, and Colyer could leverage his executive experience during the campaign. Perhaps he could even emerge with a major legislative victory, which would give him an opportunity to tout what he was able to accomplish in a short time. And he would have greater name recognition — one of his biggest weaknesses against Kobach.

But Brownback is preventing all of this from happening — and for what? Kansans know he doesn’t want to be their governor, and he knows Kansans are ready for someone new. From his dreadful approval rating to the repeal of his tax cuts last session to his obvious desire to leave the state, Brownback has become more of an encumbrance than a leader. And he’s only going to be in office for another year — is that year really worth the political sacrifice that Colyer will have to make? Shouldn’t Brownback be doing everything he can to give his lieutenant governor a chance in an extremely competitive election?

Brownback has already made his decision, so it doesn’t look like there’s anything we can say that will change his mind. But we’ll say this much: His resignation would have been a powerful expression of support for the state’s longest-serving lieutenant governor. It also would have demonstrated his single-minded determination to become the next U.S. ambassador for religious freedom — a job he wants more than the one he already has.

Colyer has been Brownback’s loyal deputy for seven years. Didn’t he deserve some loyalty in return?

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.

 

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