Jeff Colyer doesn’t scare anybody.
Not yet, anyway. Maybe not ever.
Kansas’ lieutenant governor is now in line to become governor once Sam Brownback is confirmed as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in the Trump administration.
The transition gives Colyer a huge leg up in the burgeoning 2018 race for governor, should he choose to run.
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But Colyer scares no one.
“He’s a good guy,” Kris Kobach, who has already announced his candidacy, told The New York Times. “I don’t think (Colyer’s possible candidacy) fundamentally changes the dynamic of the 2018 race regardless.”
Kobach, the two-term Kansas secretary of state who has also flirted with a Trump appointment, is spot-on. Why should the 57-year-old Colyer make anyone nervous?
After all, if Colyer does run, and he has said little about the prospect, he would launch with more baggage than a billionaire on safari.
▪ Colyer will forever be tied to the policies pushed by Brownback, who once ranked as the nation’s most unpopular governor. No daylight separates these two, whether the issue is abortion, Medicaid expansion, budget issues or the creation of a privatized health care system for the poor. Colyer, by virtue of his long-standing silence on the Brownback tax cuts, owns that misguided policy no matter what he might say in the future.
▪ No one knows who he is. It’s easy to prove: Ask anybody outside the rarefied air of the state Capitol to identify Colyer, and you’d draw blank looks from Lansing to Liberal. Serving as governor would improve those numbers, but Colyer truly is the invisible man of Kansas politics. That doesn’t bode well for a race for the state’s highest office.
▪ Retail politics — the art of selling himself to voters via handshakes and small talk — is a weak spot, which is never a good sign in a small Midwestern state like Kansas. A certain trying-too-hard awkwardness permeates Colyer-world.
He has another issue, and that is time. Brownback may not formally ascend to the ambassadorship for months, squeezing the number of days Colyer will have in the top office.
As it is, the August 2018 primary is only a year off, and that’s hardly enough time to become better-known and to distinguish himself from the boss. Plus, Colyer would need to launch a campaign this year and, preferably, the sooner the better.
Remember, Kobach is already out of the stable and running hard. So are other Republicans.
Colyer must become his own man, a task that will take a big issue and a bold stance. Expanding Medicaid would be a good one, but that would infuriate the conservative base, and Colyer has already come out against it. Criminal-justice reform would be a tougher sell but could be an avenue.
All this, of course, assumes that Colyer runs. He may not, preferring to serve as a bridge to the state’s next governor. But Colyer’s history suggests otherwise. He ran a losing bid for Congress in 2002. Four years later, he stepped back and won a seat in the state House representing Olathe. Two years later, he jumped to the state Senate.
And two years after that, Brownback tapped him to be his running mate. Colyer has now served as lieutenant governor longer than anyone in Kansas history.
This suggests a man with goals. But he scares no one.