He has transferred major responsibilities to Colyer, but he won't be honest about it
Gov. Sam Brownback's nomination to be the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom is still stuck in the Senate. Even though Brownback is still technically the governor, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is developing the state budget (perhaps the governor's most important responsibility), he recently appointed Gina Meier-Hummel to be the new secretary of the Department for Children and Families and he's set to make another high-level appointment soon. But Brownback still insists that he's the one in charge: "It's not a co-governorship."
Does Brownback really think he's fooling anyone? All he has to do is ask a few lawmakers if he wants to see how confused most Kansans are about who's running the state government. Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Carolyn McGinn says she "can't really pick up the phone and get any real decisive answers to anything in particular." Salina Rep. J.R. Claeys describes the situation as "super strange" and says he doesn't know if he should engage with Colyer or Brownback: "Is the handoff complete? I have no idea." Even Senate President Susan Wagle seems baffled: "I really don't know who's going to deliver the State of the State."
This isn't leadership. The Legislature is facing a series of major issues in 2018 — such as the possibility of a constitutional crisis over school financeand $9 billion in unfunded pension liabilities — and lawmakers shouldn't have to wonder who they can talk to about ideas and concerns.
If Kansas doesn't have a "co-governorship," why is Colyer making crucial decisions about the budget and high-ranking personnel? Why is he the one who appeared in Wichita to announce a $1 billion expansion of Spirit AeroSystems that's projected to create 1,000 jobs while Brownback stayed in Topeka to light the Christmas tree? Was Washburn political scientist Bob Beatty wrong when he said, "Jeff Colyer is going around the state acting as governor"?
When former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was nominated to be the Obama administration's health and human services secretary, she didn't dump her responsibilities onto then-Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson. This is what makes her criticism of Brownback particularly salient — she rightly points out that he "seems to have chosen not to act as governor and not to resign" and echoes an argument we made two weeks ago: "If he doesn't want to act as governor, then he should resign."
According to Colyer's spokesman, Brownback is still "in the driver's seat" and there's still "one governor at a time." Of course Colyer is publicly deferring to Brownback — he's still loyal to his boss. But is Brownback being loyal to him? Colyer is facing an extremely difficult primary, and he knows it's vital to downplay his relationship with a governor who has a 24 percent approval rating. But how can he do this when Brownback is still "in the driver's seat"? Moreover, Colyer shouldn't be allowed to evade tough questions about how he'll lead the state by arguing that "we have one governor at a time."
House Minority Leader Jim Ward was right when he called Brownback an "absentee governor." It's obvious that he doesn't want to do the job anymore, and we already know he's been shifting major responsibilities to Colyer (a man Kansans didn't elect as their governor in 2014). But here's what's even worse: He won't tell us the truth about it. Unless Brownback intends to start doing the job Kansans elected him to do, he should resign.