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Kansas Lt. Gov. Will Take Over As Brownback Leaves For Ambassadorship


Thanks to a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, the Senate has confirmed a new ambassador for religious freedom. Sam Brownback steps into the job. He leaves his post as governor of Kansas, and in Kansas, he leaves behind some big, unresolved questions. Here's Jim McLean of our member station KCUR.

JIM MCLEAN, BYLINE: For the past several months, Brownback has been the lamest of lame ducks. First nominated in July for the State Department job of fostering religious freedom abroad, everyone expected him to be gone by early fall - Thanksgiving at the latest. But when lawmakers returned to the Statehouse this month to open their 2018 session, there was Brownback delivering the State of the State address, calling for more public school funding.


SAM BROWNBACK: My budget recommendations includes an additional $600 million in funding over the next five years. My proposal does not include a tax increase.

MCLEAN: Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning were stunned and infuriated. The governor had proposed a massive increase in spending on his way out the door but no way to pay for it.


JIM DENNING: His financial acumen, as we know, is very low, but this is reckless. He's given everybody a sense of false hope that he's just solved the school issue when he's made it a hell of a lot worse.

MCLEAN: That, in microcosm, is what things have been like between Brownback and the legislature since voters demanded that lawmakers clean up the mess in Topeka, a mess caused by deep income tax cuts in 2012 that Brownback hoped would make Kansas a magnet for business, but which triggered a budget crisis. They were repealed last year, and revenues are starting to recover, but not enough yet to restore cuts to universities and highways, let alone repay millions borrowed from the state pension fund. All that now falls to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, who, gearing up for his own gubernatorial campaign, has been forced to play an awkward waiting game of promising changes while not seeming too eager.


JEFF COLYER: I know you're - you want to get a whole lot of answers right now, but they'll be coming. There's one governor at a time.

MCLEAN: With the remainder of the year, Colyer will be that governor. Keeping the job will depend on how quickly he can repair the lingering damage from Brownback's red-state experiment.

For NPR News, I'm Jim McLean in Topeka. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KMUW and other public media stations across Kansas.