Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer announced Tuesday that he will run for Kansas governor in 2018, ending speculation that he would enter the race.
Colyer is set to take over the executive office because current Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to step down later this year for a diplomatic position in the Trump administration.
Speaking before the announcement, Colyer said he’ll bring more collaboration and a change in tone to the governor’s office.
“I want Kansans to know they’re going to have a governor that will listen to them,” he said. “We will still have significant disagreements … but I’m listening to Kansans and I think there’s an opportunity for us to work together.”
Like Brownback, Colyer is a conservative, and the two share positions on major issues. Colyer said Tuesday that the state should focus on economic growth and low taxes.
“We have to grow the economy. The unemployment rate may be 3.7 (percent), but it doesn’t feel like it,” he said. “I’m listening to people and what they’re telling me is ‘Where are we going to be in a few years?’”
Colyer, who is a plastic surgeon, also opposes expanding eligibility for Medicaid.
“We need to have Kansas solutions for Kansas, not Obamacare solutions. We’ll see what Washington gives us,” he said.
Democrats were quick to try to tie Colyer to Brownback, who has seen sagging approval ratings.
“There's no appetite for a third Brownback term,” said Democratic Party Chairman John Gibson. “Voters aren't going to entrust the job of rebuilding the state to the very same person who has spent the past seven years tearing it down."
Colyer is jumping into a crowded race for governor. The field of Republican candidates already includes Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state Senator Jim Barnett. The Associated Press says others who have appointed a treasurer include Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, Leawood businessman Patrick Kucera and Ed O'Malley, a former legislator from Johnson County who heads the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center.
University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said Colyer may be walking a fine line in the coming months. He could work to attract evangelical voters that have supported Brownback, which may be a benefit in the primary. At the same time, Colyer could use policy proposals or other moves to build bridges toward the center, politically.
“It is a tightrope,” Miller said. “It is calculations about where he can gain and lose on the left and right and center.”
Colyer, like all lieutenant governors, has less name recognition than Brownback, according to Miller. That could be an asset to Colyer because he can use the next year to build an image for himself.
“How we’re thinking about him today may not be the case in six months or nine months as the campaign unfolds,” Miller said. “He’s someone who really has a lot of room to develop.”
There are also multiple Democrats in the race for governor, including former Ag Secretary Josh Svaty, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, Olathe physician Arden Andersen and Wichita high school student Jack Bergeson.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.