TOPEKA — Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer began his first full day in office Thursday with plans to shake up state government staffing and make strides on addressing transparency and sexual harassment, disputing notions he would govern like his predecessor Sam Brownback.
Colyer, 57, was inaugurated Wednesday to replace Brownback, who left to become President Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He pushed back against Democrats who argue he’s Brownback’s clone.
“Nobody confuses Trump and Pence. Nobody does,” Colyer said. “I’m not interested in looking backwards. I’m interested in looking forwards.”
Colyer sought to set a different tone on his first full day in office Thursday by meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders in both houses. He said he also would make significant staffing changes Friday and make his office more transparent.
“I think in the first week, that’s a lot,” Colyer said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he could count on one hand the number of times he met with Brownback over his seven years as governor. In the meeting, Hensley said he pushed Colyer to embrace Medicaid expansion and replace Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Carlson, but didn’t expect that would happen.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said Colyer told Republican leaders he would be making changes to make the executive branch more closely resemble a business.
“I think he intends to kind of signal his direction and his approach to government in the people that he puts into key positions,” Hineman said.
Next week, Colyer will address a joint session of the House and Senate and said he plans to introduce some executive orders and initiatives related to transparency following attention from the Legislature. He’s also expected to make some policy announcements related to sexual harassment.
Hensley said the speech would be telling in terms of Colyer’s policy proposals. Legislators have said they aren’t sure what to expect. Colyer himself disputed the notion from the Kansas Democratic Party that he would govern like Brownback. The party launched www.BrownbackClone.com hours ahead of Colyer’s inauguration.
“Kansans are independent, and I’m going to be the governor that I want to be, that Kansans expect of me,” Colyer said. “So my focus is on getting things done. If I wanted to be a clone, I wouldn’t run for re-election.”
Colyer brushed off comparisons to Brownback, arguing he would look forward, not back.
“What we need to do is we need to address what’s happening right now,” Colyer said. “I’m not interested in going back and looking at the situation of 2010 and 2011. I’m interested in right now.”