In a political year dominated by health-care reform, gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback has selected a conservative Overland Park physician as his running mate.
On Tuesday, Sen. Brownback announced that state Sen. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon, will be running for lieutenant governor on the Brownback ticket.
Brownback, the Republican front-runner in the governor's race, made the announcement to a group of more than 100 supporters. He followed up with a duplicate announcement at a similar but smaller rally in Wichita, part of a two-day, statewide tour.
"He is brilliant; he is extremely well qualified; he is talented," Brownback said of Colyer.
Brownback said he had considered several qualified candidates from the Wichita area but opted to go with Colyer because of his "unique package of talents."
He introduced Colyer as "a doctor, a state senator and a true humanitarian," referencing Colyer's work overseas providing reconstructive surgery to civilians victimized by warfare in Rwanda, Iraq and other countries.
Colyer, who turns 50 on Thursday, was elected to the Senate in 2008. Prior to that he served in the Kansas House of Representatives.
As a legislator, Colyer has advocated against abortion and for limited government, lower taxes and reduced regulation on business.
It's not Colyer's first attempt at higher office. He ran for Congress in 2002 in the Johnson County-dominated Kansas 3rd District. He lost in a close primary to Adam Taff, who went on to lose the general election to Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa.
While serving in the Legislature, Colyer has continued to practice medicine and said he plans to continue that if elected lieutenant governor. Brownback, he said, will expect him to do "double duty."
"Sam gets things done for Kansas and I'm very proud to be his running mate," Colyer said.
Colyer drew cheers from the Wichita crowd when he assailed the recently passed national health care bill, saying that when it comes to health reform, "we should do it the Kansas way, not the Obama way."
Later, he said key issues he sees with health are reducing costs, guaranteeing that Kansas has enough doctors and nurses to provide quality care, and patient choice.
Brownback said that the campaign would soon be unveiling its "Kansas Roadmap" — modeled on the Republican Party's 1994 Contract With America — which he promised would focus on creating jobs, supporting education and strengthening families.
In Wichita, he said he opposes forcing schools and districts to consolidate and wants to ensure that "dollars for education go to the classroom, not be left at the administration building or the courtroom."
The courtroom reference was a dig at school districts across the state that have sued the Legislature, claiming that it has failed to meet its constitutional mandate to provide adequate funding for public education.
Diane Gjerstad, government affairs representative for Wichita schools, said she was pleased to see education as one of Brownback's three main points.
Colyer was joined in Overland Park by his wife, Ruth, and daughters Alexandria, 15; Serena, 12; and Domino, 10. Brownback's wife, Mary, was also with them for the announcement.
Brownback and Colyer will face off in the Republican primary against Derby businesswoman Joan Heffington and her running mate, the Rev. Mark Holick, the pastor of the Spirit One Christian Center in Wichita.
The winner of that race is expected to face Democratic candidate Tom Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, in the November general election.
"I welcome my Senate colleague to the race and look forward to a vigorous debate of the issues," Holland said in a statement released by his campaign.
He said that Brownback's selecting Colyer, "another extreme conservative," as a running mate "demonstrates that he has no intention of working with, or listening to, moderate Kansans."
Positioning himself as a moderate may not help Holland, said Mel Kahn, a professor of political science at Wichita State University.
"I think if he was in another state he might profit from being the moderate," said Kahn, a Democrat.
Kahn said the selection of a running mate seldom, if ever, influences a Kansas gubernatorial election and that he doesn't see the selection of Colyer as having a significant effect on the race one way or the other.
"I think it's all going to be about Brownback," said Kahn.
His WSU colleague, political science professor and Republican Ken Ciboski, said he agrees that the Colyer selection will probably have a negligible effect on the outcome.
"I don't think Sam Brownback is going to need anybody like Colyer to win the governorship," Ciboski said.
In fact, Ciboski is so sure that Brownback has the race in hand, he's looking ahead to Colyer's potential role in the administration.
In recent years, lieutenant governors have held dual roles as Cabinet secretaries or key advisers to the governor. Current Lt. Gov. Troy Findley serves a dual role as Gov. Mark Parkinson's chief of staff.
"He (Colyer) has great contact with the legislators," Ciboski said. "Maybe he could be Brownback's liaison with the Legislature."