At a time when Kansas is facing a serious budget deficit and a court order saying school funding is inadequate, Gov. Sam Brownback may be leaving the state for a job in Italy. A former high-ranking government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells Kansas Public Radio that Brownback will be named the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations agencies for food and agriculture in Rome.
The governor's office did not confirm or deny the appointment, but a source tells Kansas Public Radio that the appointment is "a done deal." If Brownback leaves his post, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would become governor.
“Gov. Brownback is focused on working with the Kansas Legislature to balance the budget and pass a modern school funding system,” said communications director Melika Willoughby when asked for comment.
If appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brownback would become the leader of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Agencies in Rome. That organization is the link between the U.S. government and several international organizations based in Rome, including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
David Lane held the job as ambassador to the U.N. agencies in Rome from 2012 to 2016. In an interview with KPR, he confirms that around a week ago, he also heard Brownback may be selected for the position. Lane says the U.S. is a major funder for the international organizations and the ambassador leads the U.S. team working with those groups.
“Provides strategic direction to the boards of those agencies ... holds them accountable for the U.S. contribution and looks for results,” said Lane.
Lane said he met then-Sen. Brownback while they were both working on efforts related to malaria. He says the governor’s agriculture background and humanitarian work make him a good fit for the ambassador job.
“His humanitarian work, his work on malaria and some of the other things he was associated with as a senator, would be as valuable or even more than his experience with agriculture,” Lane said.
Lane said high-profile global refugee crises add extra importance to the services offered by international food organizations.
"It is a hugely important role right now," Lane said.
There has been widespread talk since the election that Brownback could take a job in the administration of President Donald Trump, but Brownback has deflected such questions.
“I’m just making no comments about anything regarding the Trump administration,” Brownback said in November.
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said after the election that the Trump administration is open to hiring Brownback.
“Someone on the Trump team told me that there are positions - I have no idea which ones - that if Gov. Brownback wanted them, he could have them,” Barker said.
The question so far has been whether Brownback wants to stay and work on his Kansas policies or move to the national stage.
Brownback would be leaving the state when Kansas is struggling to fill a budget hole of hundreds of millions of dollars. At the same time, the Kansas Supreme Court has said the state isn’t adequately funding schools, potentially requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter and J. Schafer is News Director for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.