With friends like Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who needs enemies? That’s what Lt. Gov .Jeff Colyer must be thinking.
The two Republicans are longtime friends, compatriots and political allies. Yet, for some reason, Brownback is putting Colyer, a candidate for governor, through agony. If Colyer has any chance of becoming the Republican nominee for governor this year, Brownback is killing it, day by day.
Colyer could have and should have been governor long before now. He will be elevated to governor when Brownback leaves to become the Donald Trump-appointed ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, or resigns in anticipation of that appointment. Brownback was supposed to have been confirmed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate months ago. Not only has Brownback not been confirmed, but his confirmation process was knocked back to square one (though on Thursday, his nomination did advance out of committee to the full Senate).
When I talked with Colyer several months ago, he predicted Brownback would be gone by the end of September. He desperately needs the notoriety soon that would come with holding the state’s highest office to offset the fact that, according to polls, only about one-third of Kansans have ever heard of him. Colyer’s named identification would skyrocket if he became the incumbent governor. The presumed gubernatorial Republican front-runner in a large field of candidates is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The controversial politician has about 80 percent name identification. Granted, his disapproval numbers are very high. But, even with Kobach’s baggage, it still is a distinct advantage if far more voters have heard of you than your opponents.
The clock is ticking. Less than seven months remain before the August primary election. Colyer allies want Brownback to resign today. Make that yesterday. Make that months ago. Instead, by sticking around, Brownback is sabotaging Colyer’s candidacy. It probably is not deliberate. But it is true, nonetheless.
It almost appears as if Brownback is surreptitiously boosting Kobach by undermining Colyer. It is difficult to connect those dots because Brownback and Kobach are not at all buddies. It is widely known the two are on speaking terms and not much more. This non-relationship contrasts sharply with Colyer, who has been by the governor’s side longer than any lieutenant governor in Kansas history has served the presiding governor.
That loyalty is now proving to be a problem for Colyer, who can be linked by his opponents to one of the most unpopular governors in the nation. Brownback’s approval ratings in Kansas have inched down toward the 20-percent range. It does not get much more abysmal than that.
To break away from Brownback’s shadow, to emerge as his own formidable man, Colyer oh so needed to deliver the recent State of the State address. It would have been a great launching event when Colyer could have articulated his plans, his priorities and his hopes and dreams for Kansans. His speech would have been covered by the media throughout Kansas, putting Colyer instantly on the map.
But for some reason, Brownback decided to hog the spotlight, even though he apparently has no other elected political aspirations. As if stealing Colyer’s thunder were not enough, Brownback went a step further. Out of the blue at the State of the State address, Brownback was transformed from a staunch conservative to a flaming moderate, advocating that the state spend $600 million more over five years on public education, and recommending sharply increased teachers’ salaries.
That jolting speech has alienated conservatives, who could link Colyer by association, thus hurting him more in the primaries. If somehow Colyer ever limped into the nomination, that pro-education speech might turn out to be a plus with pro-education moderates. Either way, it’s a moot point if voters only find out who Colyer is when it’s too late to make any difference.