Antonio Soave is not Kansas’ problem anymore, and for that Kansans can be thankful.
Soave was Gov. Sam Brownback’s commerce secretary for 18 months, ending in June. A Kansas City Star story last week cited at least nine instances where Soave’s friends or business partners received state contracts for consulting or marketing services.
Then in the summer, after Soave resigned under pressure or was fired or left under mutual agreement – all three have been offered as reasons for his departure – he was hired by one of the businesses that had received a $300,000 contract from Commerce while Soave was secretary.
Soave, 53, lost that job last week and on Tuesday announced he’s no longer seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in Kansas’ 2nd District.
Thank goodness. Soave can remove himself from public view and concentrate on a lawsuit against him from a former business partner. Meanwhile, his tenure will be remembered as a black mark against a Brownback administration limping toward the finish while he awaits confirmation as ambassador at large for international religious freedom from the U.S. Senate.
Soave wasn’t a mainstream pick as commerce secretary in late 2015, and The Star’s investigation into his term shows Commerce received little scrutiny outside the agency. He ran an Overland Park consulting firm and coached a college soccer team when he was hired.
As commerce secretary, Soave hired more private contractors than normal, leaning on them instead of state employees with more institutional knowledge. Those outside contracts came without a rigorous selection process, one former Commerce official told The Star.
Soave said he followed internal policies. He left the agency in June, two weeks after he was sued by Paola Ghezzo – a former business partner who also held a Commerce Department contract.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are dismayed by Commerce contracts that went overlooked while the state was in a financial crisis.
Though Soave isn’t at the helm of the Commerce Department and won’t be in a race for Congress, lawmakers should take a hard look at his 18-month tenure. It may show how not to run a state agency and will remind state officials that no one should be unaccountable, even at the cabinet level.