‘I will remain Governor,’ Brownback tweets after Trump nomination stalls

Gov. Sam Brownback
Gov. Sam Brownback AP

Gov. Sam Brownback tweeted definitively Tuesday that he will remain in office until he wins confirmation for a post in the Trump administration.

And it’s Brownback who next week will give the State of the State address and deliver the governor’s budget proposal.

“Looking forward to another great legislative session,” Brownback said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “I will remain Governor until confirmed by the US Senate.”

Brownback had previously said that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was taking the lead in developing the budget proposal, the governor’s blueprint for how Kansas should spend billions in tax dollars.

“This budget is Gov. Brownback’s budget,” Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr said Tuesday. “He’s had final say on this.”

The governor’s office said the speech will include Brownback’s response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in the fall that found school funding inadequate under the state constitution.

Speculation about who would be performing the duties of the state’s highest office has swirled since Brownback’s nomination to become ambassador at-large for international religious freedom stalled in the U.S. Senate.

President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July, but he didn’t receive a confirmation vote in the Senate before year’s end, returning his nomination to square one. Trump will have to renominate him, and the confirmation process could go on for weeks or months. The White House didn’t comment Tuesday on renominations.

Before Christmas, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said “hopefully as soon as we can in January” when asked about Brownback’s nomination.

Talk in recent days centered on whether Brownback might resign before the State of the State speech, clearing the way for Colyer, who is running for governor.

But Brownback had sent several signals over the past week that he plans to remain in charge. He announced the hiring of a policy director last week and asked his interim commerce secretary to remain in place. Interim secretary Nick Jordan had earlier planned to resign Jan. 5.

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That’s a far cry from predictions this fall that Colyer would be the governor by now. In October, a spokeswoman for Colyer dismissed policy questions directed at him, saying he would make announcements during the State of the State speech.

Brownback also allowed Colyer to take on more power than a traditional lieutenant governor. Colyer chose the new secretary of the Department for Children and Families and was allowed to lead the budget development.

Marr said Colyer still had significant input in the budget’s development.

“In the process he talked to many people,” Marr said of Brownback. “He mentioned the lieutenant governor had a very strong hand in this and that’s really what we expected going in. That was part of our plan.”

Brownback and Colyer had faced mounting pressure to show clearly who will be in charge this session. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, had said Brownback should resign before the State of the State speech.

Former Democratic Gov. John Carlin said the speech matters if the administration has an agenda that needs as much public exposure as possible.

“It’s an opportunity to make it clear where you’re headed,” Carlin said.

Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Republican, said whoever delivers the State of the State speech should commit to remaining in office throughout the session. The uncertainty over who will hold the office has created confusion, she said.

Before the session begins, lawmakers need to know who they will be working with, Sykes said, adding that she’s willing to work with either.

“It does make it difficult because our lieutenant governor has been making some of the big decisions that should have been from the governor, appointments and things like that,” Sykes said.

Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, said whoever is giving the State of the State and putting together the budget needs to outline a “clear path,” to the end of the session.

“We have had some pretty seriously rudderless leadership from the executive branch year in and year out,” Claeys said.

Brownback’s continuing in office also makes campaigning for governor more difficult for Colyer. The State of the State would have been a “giant kick-start to his campaign,” said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University.

“This will be a lesson for other governors for years to come that get nominated,” Beatty said. “You do not publicly give up power until the second you’ve been confirmed.”

Contributing: Anita Kumar of McClatchy DC

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw