Jeff Colyer waited six months to become Kansas governor. He bided his time and filled in for Gov. Sam Brownback here and there. He was a dutiful lieutenant while Brownback waited (and waited) on his confirmation for a U.S. ambassadorship.
Colyer’s public patience remained strong, even as Brownback’s first nomination stalled and the governor took interest in this month’s State of the State speech and an attempt at a state budget.
Now, with Brownback confirmed and his resignation as governor days away, Colyer can begin to lead the state – and we’ll get a glimpse of the kind of leader he will be.
Will he be a Brownback clone, sticking to the soon-to-be former governor’s policies? Some of those crashed the state budget and turned many voters toward more moderate legislators in the last election.
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Will he take a path so far from Brownback that it’ll be hard to remember he was once Brownback’s right-hand man? Or maybe somewhere in between.
We will begin to see Wednesday.
Colyer has revealed little about how he’ll differ from Brownback, only that he promises energy and an effort to listen to Kansans.
One of his first tests will be deciding how he wants to lead lawmakers in a school finance funding solution. Brownback offered $600 million more for public schools over five years, a proposal that didn’t have a funding source and rankled Republicans who aren’t convinced schools need that much more.
Colyer must decide if he’s on board with added funding – which would almost certainly need a tax increase, barring deep spending cuts. Or he can present his own plan. There is no easy fix.
Other challenges remain. The Colyer-designed KanCare program (the state’s version of Medicaid) was ready for a new version, but too many questions have put it on hold. The prison system is underfunded and understaffed. Most state agencies are trying to make due after funding cuts in recent years.
Colyer’s remaining term is almost a year, but in reality it’s the seven months until the GOP primary in August. Republican voters get that long to grade Colyer’s time in office and decide if he’s worthy of an extension.
We wish Colyer didn’t inherit the added pressure of having six months to lead while running for governor at the same time. That kind of condensed calendar can lead to decisions that are made not in the best interest of Kansans, but of the man running for governor. We trust Colyer recognizes decisions that help his constituents are most likely to earn him the most recognition as the primary approaches.
Whatever his leadership style, Colyer steps into a massive rebuild. Kansas has lacked leadership from the top in a time of extraordinary challenges. He’ll try to change that while his decisions will be scrutinized by other Republicans in the gubernatorial field.
Mr. Colyer, the stage is yours. The spotlight is bright. It’s what you waited for.