Colyer to be sworn-in today as governor

Jeff Colyer, who has served seven years as lieutenant governor under Gov. Sam Brownback, will be sworn in as governor of Kansas later today as Brownback assumes his new job as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

Colyer faces major policy and political deadlines almost right away. The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to propose a fix to the school finance system by April 30 and Colyer is running in a crowded Republican Party primary field for governor in August.

In addition, the Legislature has commissioned a study of the cost of providing a constitutionally adequate school funding that is due March 15, which is just six weeks away.

Colyer enters this school finance storm during an election year with a Legislature that while home to many factions and groups, took a definite moderate turn last year through a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. Colyer also will be expected to appoint a lieutenant governor but is under no deadline make the appointment.

Colyer grew up in Hays, graduated from medical school at the University of Kansas and became a plastic surgeon who has volunteered his medical services in some war-torn areas. He served in the Kansas House and Senate before joining Brownback’s ticket and winning election as lieutenant governor in 2010.

Colyer’s rise to the governor’s office today has been somewhat delayed. Brownback was initially nominated by President Trump in July for the religious ambassador job but Brownback’s U.S. Senate confirmation was held up for months because of Democratic opposition.

While anticipating a Senate vote, Brownback handed off to governor-in-waiting Colyer some of the duties that would normally be done by the governor, such as the announcement of Gina Meier-Hummel as the new secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, an agency that has been under fire from legislators who are unhappy with lapses in the agency’s protection of children. But with Brownback’s nomination stalled, Brownback delivered the State of the State and released his budget proposal during the first week of the session. Colyer has not made public statements on Brownback’s departing proposal to increase school spending by $600 million over five years; a proposal that relies on extremely high growth projections and doesn’t include a tax increase.

Last week, Brownback’s nomination in the Senate was finally approved in a tie vote that had to be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Now Colyer will ascend to the top state executive job. As lieutenant governor, Colyer was involved mostly in health care efforts including the conversion of Kansas’ Medicaid program to KanCare. In recent months, he also has been visiting schools across Kansas, showing an interest in the Kansas Redesign project, where dozens of schools are realigning their systems to focus on the State Board of Education’s vision for Kansas to lead the world in the success of every student.

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