Gov. Sam Brownback called his signature tax cuts “the dominant tax discussion in America in the last five years” and told reporters they’d “have to be the ones to decide" whether the rollback of those cuts diminishes his legacy.
Brownback reflected on his more than six years as governor during a wide-ranging news conference on Thursday, the day after President Donald Trump nominated him to be an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The U.S. Senate must confirm him to the position.
He defended his signature tax cuts, which were largely undone by lawmakers in June in order to fix a budget shortfall. The 2012 policy cut income taxes across the board and eliminated taxes on certain kinds of business income. Brownback acknowledged the business provision – which some called unfair – could have been handled differently, potentially by capping the amount of tax-exempt income.
"It’s amazing to me, too, that a tax cut done in a Midwestern state in 2012 has been the dominant tax discussion in America in the last five years. It’s amazing to me," Brownback said.
"If you look at the centerpieces of it, people will be dissecting it, people are writing books now on it to determine, ‘OK, is this right way to go?’"
The 36-minute news conference featured a listing by Brownback of his accomplishments, including water policy, bringing the American Royal horse show to Kansas from Missouri, and changes to welfare eligibility designed to encourage work.
He referred to strong disagreements with lawmakers over tax policy, but his tone carried little of the exasperation and anger that could sometimes be heard during the legislative session. He appeared to grow emotional, his voice breaking at times as he talked about his service to Kansas.
Brownback named his anti-abortion record as his proudest accomplishment as governor. He signed a number of anti-abortion measures into law, including a ban on certain types of abortion procedures and font and type size requirements for information provided to women considering having an abortion.
"We are a culture of life state and we're not going back," Brownback said.
Turning his attention toward his likely new job, he said religious freedom worldwide has been in retreat in the nearly 20 years since he helped create the ambassadorship while in Congress.
"There’s more persecution, not less, that’s taking place," Brownback said.
In the job, Brownback would help coordinate efforts to promote religious freedom worldwide.
Brownback said he had no timeframe for when the Senate will vote on his nomination. He didn’t rule out resigning before the Senate takes action. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been notified of the nomination, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
There has been little sign of opposition so far from senators.
"I am glad the Trump administration shares my commitment to defending religious freedom and look forward to the consideration of Governor Brownback’s nomination," said U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Brownback gave a vote of confidence in Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. The Johnson County plastic surgeon will become governor if Brownback resigns.
"Jeff is his own man, his own person. He’s an accomplished physician, accomplished public policy person," Brownback said.
Asked about the biggest problem facing Kansas, Brownback paused for several seconds before saying that in the long-term the biggest problem is the "decline of the family structure."
Government has, and should only have, limited power to intervene, he said.
"We want a lot of freedom. We want taxes to be as low as possible so I’m not taking any more of your money than I have to provide essential government services," Brownback said.
"I want the size of government to be as small as possible, so we’re doing what we have to do but have as much liberty and freedom as possible."
Contributing: Lindsay Wise of McClatchy