No Policy Shift From Brownback, But Kansas Gov. Colyer Looks To Make Quick Mark

Feb 2, 2018

After promising for months to change the tone when he took charge, new Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer spent his first days in office trying to deliver on that pledge.

He was sworn in late Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning, he met with Democratic leaders that his predecessor, Sam Brownback, rarely consulted.

“We’re going to keep that dialogue open,” he said. “We’re going to keep working with people.”

That afternoon, he summoned Statehouse reporters to an already refurbished office for a chat.

On Friday, Colyer hit the road for a series of “local media visits” in El Dorado, Independence and Pittsburg. His office announced a series of staffing changes, including the appointment of Rep. Larry Campbell, an Olathe Republican, to head the budget office.

Campbell is a banker, adjunct business professor and, according to his campaign website, “an accomplished songwriter and performer of contemporary Christian music.” He replaced Shawn Sullivan, who moved to the newly created position of chief operating officer.

A Friday new release also highlighted new leadership at the Department of Health and Environment and the Department for Children and Families, signaling that the acting secretaries of both agencies – while technically appointed by Brownback – were Colyer picks.

During his chat with reporters, Colyer said he would issue some executive orders in the coming week aimed at increasing government transparency and dealing with sexual harassment. Reports earlier this year indicated sexual harassment remains a persistent problem at the Statehouse.

The changes Colyer has made in the first days of his administration are more than window dressing, said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty, but they don’t signal any policy breaks from Brownback.

“There is still the question of tone versus direction,” Beatty said. “The direction may not change very much.”

Reporters pressed Colyer, but he declined to criticize Brownback or second-guess his predecessor’s policies.

“I’m not interested in looking backward,” the new governor said. “I’m interested in looking forward.”

Noting that Brownback departed as the least popular governor in state history, Beatty said “any change will probably look pretty good” to lawmakers and others looking to work with the administration.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.