Kansas’ tale of two governors: Senate confirmation delay creates awkward situation in Topeka
Although Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback looked like a man in charge when he gave his State of the State speech, Kansans hadn’t known he would be the one giving it until a week beforehand.
“I think they’re shocked that Gov. Brownback is still here,” said Hunter Woodall, a reporter at The Kansas City Star. “It was announced in July that he would be leaving.”
President Trump nominated Brownback in July to be Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.
Expecting a quick confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Brownback announced shortly afterward that discussions about transferring power to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer had already begun.
“Jeff’s going to do a fantastic job…he and I have been talking about this,” he said.
But fast-forward six month, and Brownback is still the governor and Colyer is still sitting by waiting to assume his new position. And that has led to an awkward situation.
“Now, I just teach about politics,” Washburn University Professor Bob Beatty said with a wry smile. “But one thing I teach is that you don’t count on the U.S. Senate to do anything until it’s done, especially confirmations.”
It was October before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its confirmation hearing for Brownback, but the required vote by the full Senate still hasn’t happened.
“Most people just thought he would be confirmed before the break,” explains Republican State Senate President Susan Wagle. “But as you know, the U.S. Senate was working on tax policy and that just trumped all other issues.”
Brownback is far from alone. According the Washington Post Political Appointee Tracker, of 626 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, only 241 nominations have been confirmed so far.
“Everybody in Kansas had planned for the governor to be long gone by now,” Beatty said. “He wants to go, the approval ratings of the Kansas people show that they wouldn’t mind him going, but he’s not going anywhere.”
The situation has led many to ask who’s really in charge of the executive branch in Kansas.
“Colyer was making appointments, he was doing major events, and then Gov. Brownback was doing like a Christmas tree lighting or a Hanukkah event,” he said.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who has been in the Kansas legislature for 42 years, says he’s never seen anything like it.
“It’s reminiscent of that old Abbot and Costello routine where they talk about who’s on first and what’s on second,” Hensley said. “And the disservice is to the people of Kansas.”
When asked bluntly by Fox News Correspondent Alicia Acuna, “Does the state of Kansas have two governors?” Lt. Governor Colyer replied firmly: “No, the state of Kansas has one governor. Gov. Brownback is in charge and he makes the final decisions.”
The lieutenant governor has already announced his candidacy to succeed Brownback in next year’s election.
“The plan was for Colyer to give the State of the State speech and that would be his coming out party,” Beatty said.
But Brownback spoiled that plan when 2017 ended without his confirmation as ambassador. Just a week before the State of the State address, the governor announced he would be the one giving it. Still, his longing for ambassadorship has not gone away.
As required by Senate rules, President Trump has re-nominated Brownback and dozens of others who went unconfirmed in 2017.
Re-nominees who, like Brownback, have already had hearings won’t need to go through them again. Micah Johnson, spokeswoman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, told Fox News, “…all nominees must be voted on by the committee again before being sent to the Senate floor for consideration.”
Woodall, the Kansas City Star reporter, said no one knows how long this situation will last.
“Could he be gone in February?” Woodall wonders about Brownback’s future. “Could he be gone in June? Could it be even later than that? Who knows?”
Some, like Hensley and the editorial boards of the Topeka Capitol-Journal and The Kansas City Star, want Gov. Brownback to take it upon himself to resolve Kansas’ governor dilemma sooner rather than later.
“He has said all along that he is confident that he will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” Hensley said. “If he feels that confident, then I believe he should resign.”