The tenure of Sam Brownback as Kansas governor started its end Wednesday. A merciful end.
Merciful mostly because Kansas needed closure after a six-month process to get Brownback confirmed as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom — ending with two tie-breaking Senate votes from Vice President Mike Pence. The will-he-leave-us, won’t-he-leave-us saga distracted Kansans during an important legislative session.
Brownback’s resignation as governor puts in charge Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who’s been waiting for his turn and, unlike Brownback, wasn’t watching his future being bounced around the Senate.
The end is also merciful because the weight of the Brownback Era is being pulled off all Kansans. He had less than a year left on his second term, but after his tax cuts that crippled the state’s budget were ended last year by a legislative override of his own veto, Brownback’s power had diminished and Kansans were ready to move on from one of the nation’s most unpopular governors.
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Colyer has been ready. Though he hasn’t offered a specific vision for the state in most areas, waiting until he assumes the governor’s duties, he is eager for his trial run as he and many hopefuls head into an August gubernatorial primary.
Two big-ticket items happened as Brownback’s awaited a confirmation vote. The results appropriately mirrored his years in charge.
First was Brownback’s office announcing that KanCare 2.0, the newest version of the state’s privatized Medicaid program, was being put on hold while important concerns — mainly increased costs and finding a way to pay for them — were addressed. For now, the Legislature will tweak the original KanCare.
Next was a vote in Topeka by the Senate’s Finance Council on a new $362 million prison project at Lansing. The vote to approve CoreCivic Inc. as the prison’s designer, builder and financier passed 5-3, but with reservations from House Majority Leader Don Hineman and a no vote from Sedgwick Republican Carolyn McGinn.
So two U.S. Senate votes needing a tie-breaker, suggesting lukewarm support by a body Brownback once served. Back home, one Brownback initiative was put on hold, another passed with reservations from his own party.
We wish Brownback well in an ambassadorship that fits his commitment to religious freedom, but Wednesday was a fitting end to his tenure as governor.