Kelly picks commerce secretary to fill vacancy at lieutenant governor

Gov. Laura Kelly announces during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse that commerce secretary David Toland will be her new lieutenant governor. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly revealed Monday she has selected commerce secretary David Toland to be her next lieutenant governor.

Toland fills an open seat in a game of political musical chairs, with Kelly already picking current Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers to replace Republican state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who is heading to Washington, D.C., as the newly elected 2nd District congressional representative.

Toland will retain his position as commerce secretary and absorb the duties Rogers held in overseeing the Office of Rural Prosperity.

Kelly touted Toland’s efforts to guide the Kansas economy through pandemic turmoil, his ability to secure capital investments through private-public partnerships, and his experience with an economic development agency in Allen County.

“David recognizes that economic prosperity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that new capital investment must be complemented with a top-notch education system, a dynamic infrastructure program nimble enough to support changing needs, access to affordable health care for our workforce, and a culture that values diversity and inclusion,” Kelly said.

The Republican-led Senate in 2019 narrowly approved the appointment of Toland to oversee the Kansas Department of Commerce. Former Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Republican Party chairman Mike Kuckelman both criticized the decision by Kelly to elevate his status.

Colyer said Toland was a “strange choice” in light of the small businesses that have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kansans lose their livelihoods and the commerce secretary gets promoted,” Colyer said on Twitter.

David Toland will continue to serve as commerce secretary after filling the vacancy at lieutenant governor. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly said the agency was decimated under the administrations of her predecessors, Colyer and Gov. Sam Brownback. Audits questioned the use of economic incentive programs, and former commerce secretary Antonio Soave had secretly transferred the state’s database of Kansas companies, their executives and details of operations into his private consulting firm.

Under Toland, the agency revived a program to pump cash into small-town main streets and worked to establish new export markets for agriculture producers.

“We invested in people,” Toland said. “We’ve resurrected good programs, and we focus on being transparent — transparent about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why it matters.”

Kuckelman said Kansans are tired of Kelly’s “liberal extremism” and handling of the state’s economy. The decision to make Toland her lieutenant governor, he said, is a sign she is trying to placate her far-left base.

“Today’s move means she missed the message voters sent in November by electing Republicans up and down the ballot,” Kuckelman said. “Thanks to those voters, our veto-proof conservative supermajorities in the state Legislature mean Gov. Kelly’s liberal agenda is dead on arrival for the remainder of her term. I’m confident that, should she decide to run for re-election, Kansans will send her into retirement.”