By Jim McLean – Kansas News Service/KCUR.org
As long as Sam Brownback waits for Congress to approve his at-large ambassadorship for religious freedom for the Trump administration, he’ll continue to meet his responsibilities as governor.
That, his office said Tuesday, includes giving the annual State of the State address next week and submitting a budget to lawmakers.
The declaration put aside for the moment speculation that he’d step aside – and make way for Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to get a head start in this year’s race for governor – sometime before the U.S. Senate decides whether to give him the U.S. State Department post.
So that further delays the transfer of power to Colyer, who for months has been assembling a staff in preparation for his move into the governor’s office and a 2018 campaign to win it in his own right.
The anticipation of a changing of the guard has led to some awkward moments in recent months. Prior to Thanksgiving, Brownback said he wanted Colyer to take the lead in drafting the administration’s budget proposal. But a few weeks later, he backtracked, assuring reporters that he was still in charge.
“I’m the governor,” Brownback said. “I’m making the decisions.”
Last week, Kendall Marr, Colyer’s communications director, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the governor and lieutenant governor were working together on the budget while acknowledging that “the ultimate decisions lie with Gov. Brownback.”
Tuesday’s announcement was light on details but signaled that Brownback was planning an aggressive speech that will include “his response” to the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision that struck down the state’s current school funding formula as inadequate and inequitable.
Some lawmakers have said the state might have to increase funding by another $600 million to satisfy the court. Brownback is expected to side with Republican leaders, who have ruled out any funding plan that requires a tax increase.
In a nod to Colyer, the statement from Brownback’s office said the governor had asked him to “meet with key advocacy groups” to discuss the budget proposal scheduled for release the day after the State of the State speech.
Brownback’s will deliver the speech to a joint session of the Legislature at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 9.
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.