Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer is on tour across the state and has been reaching out to media this week as he is likely to take over the governorship soon.
Colyer spoke with KMAN via telephone during Tuesday morning’s live newscast.
Colyer is next in line to be the 47th governor of Kansas after the Trump administration announced on July 27 that Gov. Sam Brownback is the president’s pick for a religious freedom ambassadorship. If the nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate — which is likely — Brownback would lead the Office of International Religious Freedom, which is under the umbrella of the State Department.
The Senate is in recess until Sept. 5. Brownback’s term ends January 2019.
When asked what the difference would be between a Gov. Colyer Topeka compared to Brownback’s, the suburban Kansas City doctor didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“We are going to change the tone,” he said. “The tone needs to change in the state.
“I’m my own man, and I think people want somebody to listen to them and I’m somebody who listens and works with folks very much.”
Colyer said Kansas is a “vibrant state” and hopes his daughters will always call it home. But he said there is room for improvement.
“We really are the heart of America,” he said. “And there are a number of ways where the state is growing, and other ways where we’ve got to deal with issues.”
Nationally, a July 18 poll found Brownback to be the second-least popular governor in the country. Previous polling had the staunch conservative as the least popular overall until New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican, took that spot in April.
If confirmed by the Senate, Brownback, who was first elected in 2010 and again in 2014, will leave a state that saw Democratic and moderate-Republican gains in 2016 after continuous budget crisis and school funding battles influenced voters to reconsider hard-right policies that made the Sunflower State ground zero in what Brownback himself touted as a “real live experiment” in the most stringent forms of conservative governance.
In June, the new legislature passed an override of a Brownback veto that raised taxes to help plug a projected budget hole of nearly $1 billion by June 2019 and added more money for public schools. It also passed Medicaid expansion, but in that case, lacked the votes to override Brownback’s veto.
When Colyer was asked directly if he’d also veto Medicaid expansion if the legislature brought it to the governor’s desk again, he was unclear — but echoed many of the talking points Brownback has made about the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Colyer said the ACA has been damaging to Kansas, even though the state has excluded itself from many of its offerings such as Medicaid expansion, which allows states to opt-in to federal eligibility requirements that say anyone with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify. The federal government covers 100 percent of the costs for new state enrollees until 2019, and 90 percent of costs after that.
But even with a new legislature that supports expanded coverage, there’s been no shared enthusiasm in the governor’s office.
“You know, here’s where I think we need to start, is that it’s a new day in Kansas,” he said. “We are looking forward — not looking backward. And that’s just were Kansans are and that’s where I am — looking forward.
“We need Kansas solutions,” he added. “Obamacare has been a disaster for Kansas. Everyone’s insurance rates have gone up double-digits. It’s not gone down, they’ve went up. And that cost to every individual, every business, has been huge.”
Colyer’s full interview with KMAN’s Dave Lewis and Brady Bauman can be listened to below: