Morning Digest: Kris Kobach isn’t getting out of the way for Sam Brownback’s successor

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.

Leading Off

KS-Gov: As far back as March, there’ve been reports that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback would bail on his home state of Kansas before his term expires in early 2019 for a Trump administration position. On Wednesday, those reports came to fruition when the State Department announced that Trump had nominated Brownback to serve as his “ambassador for religious freedom.” It’s not the most prestigious job, shall we say, but the incredibly unpopular governor is probably just happy to get out of Dodge. The Senate will need to confirm Brownback, however, so Kansas is stuck with him for at least a while longer.

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Assuming the Senate (where Brownback served before his disastrous governorship) signs off, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would take over as governor. Colyer, a close Brownback ally, has not announced if he’ll run for governor next year, but he seems to be leaning in that direction. Colyer, who made a fortune as a plastic surgeon, was Brownback’s running mate during both his campaigns. But while his personal wealth could boost his future prospects, it’s also caused him some trouble. In early 2015, for reasons that were never clear, a grand jury began looking into three loans made to the Brownback-Colyer campaign that added up to $1.5 million. Prosecutors announced that there would be no charges a few months later, but it’s possible this matter could come up again.

A number of other Republicans had already entered the race to succeed Brownback before the ambassadorship news, even though they’ve known for months that they could wind up facing a Gov. Colyer. The most prominent declared candidate is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is spearheading Trump’s infamous “Election Integrity Commission,” and he doesn’t seem at all inclined to defer to Colyer. Just after Brownback’s nomination was announced, Kobach told the New York Times that while Colyer is “a good guy,” he doesn’t think his likely promotion “fundamentally changes the dynamic of the 2018 race regardless.”

And while Kansas is a very conservative state, Democrats may nevertheless have an opening here. Brownback’s reactionary tax cuts—which the Republican-led legislature just repealed over his veto—have done lasting damage to the state budget and have left Brownback as one of the most unpopular governors in the nation. If Colyer takes over the reins and makes it to the general election, his biggest challenge will be to establish an identity independent of the man he’s about to succeed. And if Kansans are still disgusted with the status quo, Colyer may have a very tough time convincing voters that he’s not just a continuation of Brownback’s tenure.