TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback declared his final full day as Kansas’ chief executive today shall be devoted to prayer and fasting to acknowledge God’s blessings in a manner reminiscent of a proclamation issued by President George Washington in 1795.
“I personally feel blessed by the time I have spent serving our great state and would like to observe a time of prayer and fasting before God takes me on to the next part of my journey,” Brownback said.
He’s resigning Wednesday to work for President Donald Trump as ambassador of international religious freedom. His replacement, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, will be sworn in later that day at the Capitol.
Asked during a Republican gathering what advice he had for the future governor, Brownback offered a single word reply.
“Pray,” Brownback said.
Colyer, a Johnson County craniofacial surgeon and former House and Senate member, plans to attend Mass at his high school alma mater — Thomas More Prep-Marian in Hays — hours before taking the oath.
He has yet to unveil a broad political agenda. As a candidate for governor, he’s spoken primarily to voters about his personal background.
“We’ll be outlining a lot of things over the next few weeks,” Colyer said.
Colyer will have the benefit of seven months at the helm before an August gubernatorial primary with a deep Republican field. It’s a chance to demonstrate capacity to lead, but also opportunity for critics to sharpen attacks.
“If he’s standing by the old policies, then that part of the tone won’t change,” said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University. “For the tone to really change, he might have to make a policy break with Brownback.”
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said he found Colyer open to dialogue about the future of state government.
“He’s a very personable guy who has always been very open for meetings and discussion. I think he’s for Republican principles,” Ryckman said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat seeking the party’s nomination for governor, said she didn’t expect Colyer to be a transformational governor.
“As lieutenant governor, Jeff Colyer was Sam Brownback’s biggest fan,” Kelly said. “They worked hand-in-hand to create policies that harmed our state.”
Colyer has been the No. 1 messenger for Brownback since 2011 and will have difficulty emerging from shadows, said Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka.
“Now he has to work with the Legislature one-on-one,” Kuether said. “He’s going to have to figure out, if he’s running for governor, how he’s to do that and be different from Brownback.”
Early in the Brownback era, Colyer was handed responsibility for molding privatization of Medicaid. KanCare serves 400,000 low-income, elderly and disabled Kansans. In November, Colyer said he was proud to reshape the first incarnation into KanCare 2.0. However, the update was scuttled this month amid backlash from legislators.
“We will continue to listen to participants and providers and work with the Legislature to ensure we are increasing the quality of care,” Colyer said.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat running for governor, said Colyer could make a big splash by endorsing expansion of eligibility for Medicaid in Kansas.
Colyer championed the controversial 2012 tax reform bill signed by Brownback that eliminated the state income tax on approximately 330,000 business owners and lowered the individual income tax rates. In 2017, the Legislature forced through a bill that repealed much of that supply-side tax experiment.
More recently, Colyer offered praise for federal tax legislation extending income tax breaks to business owners.
Colyer, who attended a Catholic high school in Hays, celebrated implementation of 19 bills restricting access to abortion. He pledged to “continue to work hard to ensure that Kansas policy respects the right to life.”