Where is Kansas Governor Sam Brownback?
Physically, he still inhabits his second-floor suite in the capitol, haunts the statehouse halls in his sweater vest, and resides at Cedar Crest, courtesy of Kansas taxpayers.
Legislatively, however, Brownback is nowhere. He is essentially absent from the continuing discussions on the Bermuda Triangle of taxes, budgets, and school finance, even though his vaunted income tax experiment is the root cause of the state’s fiscal crisis. As the Legislature moves toward the humane and fiscally sound decision to expand Medicaid, he’s not a player, save as an ultimate, disengaged wielder of a veto pen.
In politics, the saying goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Per this truism, the governor has only one serious option: Resign.
Resign and go off to Rome as the U.S. ambassador for food and agriculture at the UN.
Resign and let Governor Jeff Colyer become part of the policy-making process.
Resign and let the Legislature do its job.
Numerous lawmakers have acknowledged the governor’s AWOL status. Most notably, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said, “…the governor is refusing to acknowledge that we have a deep budget hole, and he’s refusing to give us solutions. If anybody’s playing games, it’s the governor.”
In short, gubernatorial delusion has met gubernatorial disengagement.
Ironically, state legislators are heavily engaged on taxes, the 2017 and 2018 budgets, and school finance. As we’ve discovered at the national level, legislating is hard; an absent governor makes it all the more difficult.
Past chief executives have worked with the Legislature to fashion policies that can win approval by both houses and gain the governor’s signature. Some governors roamed the legislative halls, negotiating on the fly; others called lawmakers into their chambers to hammer out compromises. Sometimes they intervened only when a legislative impasse was at hand. Regardless, they became integral parts of the legislative process.
But not Sam Brownback in 2017. He’s distant, aloof, and uninvolved, to the point that he has abdicated his responsibility to govern.
So let Jeff Colyer, whose only path to becoming governor in 2018 is to run as a results-oriented conservative, take the reins and cut some deals with a legislative body that is eager to do so. With Colyer, Republican leaders would only have to win narrow majorities to carry the day, rather than the two-thirds required to overturn a veto. Strangely enough, those majorities might well produce more conservative legislation than the supermajorities’ results, which would reflect bipartisan deals to override a Brownback veto.
Moreover, the power of ambition is central to effective governing. Politicians eye their next office, or re-election, or some administrative appointment as they seek to succeed in their current position. But Brownback has run his course, albeit as one of the state’s most successful electoral politicians, while Colyer as governor could use his ambition to generate legislative victories.
Senators Moran and Roberts, as well as Bob Dole, should beg President Trump to finalize the Rome appointment for Governor Brownback, who could stop wandering aimlessly – literally and figuratively — around the capitol’s halls.
Although the governor may appear active by writing letters to support the GOP’s health care bill and by seeking federal aid for prairie fire damage, he has failed to do the real work of addressing Kansas’s most pressing problems. Indeed, he has only made them worse.
So, as Rome beckons, it’s time to take your leave, Sam. You’ve done your work, for better or, most assuredly, worse.
Still, you can act one last time to benefit our state: Resign.
Burdett Loomis is a political science professor at the University of Kansas.