TOPEKA — Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on Tuesday officially joined a growing field of Republican candidates vying for the party’s nomination to run for Kansas governor.
The Overland Park surgeon and conservative Republican put an end to speculation he would run with a press release calling for a “new day in Kansas” and announcing he had filed initial campaign finance paperwork. Prior to his statement Tuesday, Colyer had been quiet about his intentions in the 2018 race.
In a statement, Colyer said the state has a history of emerging from difficulty, invoking the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera,” or “to the stars through difficulties.”
“It’s time for a new day in Kansas. It’s time to listen, to lead, and to bring people together,” Colyer said. “I am fully committed to doing the work necessary to win the 2018 race for governor, and today’s announcement is a first step toward that victory.”
The statement signaled to some that Colyer was making an effort to distance himself from Brownback’s legacy. Washburn political science professor Bob Beatty said he thought Colyer was trying to tie himself to President Ronald Reagan rather than Sam Brownback. Colyer’s announcement noted he worked in the Reagan administration, but did not mention Brownback.
“He’s arguing he’s not going to be an extension of the Brownback administration,” Beatty said.
Colyer, however, will take over the helm of the administration upon Brownback’s coming resignation. Brownback was nominated last month to a position in President Donald Trump’s administration and faces Senate confirmation. Under Brownback, Colyer also became the longest-serving lieutenant governor in state history.
Democrats have begun tying the two together. In a statement following Colyer’s announcement, Kansas Democratic Party Chairman John Gibson emphasized Colyer’s ties to Brownback, who has become one of the least popular governors in the country.
“If there’s one thing that unites all Kansans, it’s that there’s no appetite for a third Brownback term,” Gibson said. “Voters aren’t going to entrust the job of rebuilding the state to the very same person who has spent the past seven years tearing it down.”
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he did not think Colyer would champion policies any different than those of Brownback.
“I laughed out loud when I saw his email, ‘a new day in Kansas,’ ” Ward said. “Because Jeff Colyer trying to run away from Sam Brownback is ridiculous. That would be like trying to run away from himself.”
Colyer, however, might have an opportunity to use his coming position as governor to further his campaign.
“Incumbency can be a major political asset if he exploits it,” said Patrick Miller, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Kansas.
Beatty said having the chance to work with the Legislature and solve a problem could give Colyer an edge in the campaign.
Colyer’s coming ascension to the governor’s office also has been referred to as a possible “fresh start” for the office’s relationship with the Legislature, which overrode Brownback’s veto to roll back his tax cuts earlier this year.
Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican and advocate for higher education spending, said she and Colyer got along, but she had not worked with him extensively.
“He’s promising a fresh start, and I’m hopeful that for the good of the state we actually see that,” Rooker said.
Fellow moderate Republican Stephanie Clayton said she thought Colyer had given the indication he was willing to work with the Legislature, but that “only time will tell.” She said she was hopeful.
Ward said he thought Colyer might be more “engaged” in the legislative process but would be largely the same. He said any differences would be “all superficial, not substantive.”
“I don’t think there’s anything easier about interacting with Colyer,” Ward said.
Appointing a treasurer allows Colyer to start raising money in the campaign.
Colyer also added staff to his office Monday, including former Kansas GOP executive director Clay Barker as a special assistant. He also named former journalist Kara Fullmer as his press secretary.
The crowded field of Republican primary candidates also includes Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former state Sen. Jim Barnett and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman. Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley is considering a run.
Beatty said he thought Kobach already had claimed voters who supported Brownback and that Colyer would compete with other candidates for the more traditional Republican voters.
“Colyer looks like he’s not using the word ‘establishment,’ but instead using the word ‘Reagan,’ ” Beatty said.
Kobach was the most known but least favorable of a number of possible gubernatorial candidates, according to a May survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University.
Fullmer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said Colyer would not hold a press conference Tuesday.