TOPEKA — Former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer formally launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for governor Monday by touting an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall and with the argument he was best positioned to defeat incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in 2022.
Colyer, a Johnson County surgeon and former state legislator, was lieutenant governor under GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. He served as governor for about one year following Brownback’s resignation, but lost the 2018 gubernatorial primary to Kris Kobach. In terms of the August primary, Colyer will be competing against Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
“I come with a message,” Colyer said. “I am the conservative candidate in this race and I will not back down from a fight. I am in the best position to defeat liberal Laura Kelly.”
Colyer devoted much of his announcement speech to a critique of Kelly, but left the impression he wanted to be viewed as the “only candidate in this race with a consistent record of conservative accomplishment.” In other words, Colyer plans to paint Schmidt as a Republican with moderate tendencies.
Marshall, who was elected to replace retired U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, reciprocated the endorsement he received from Colyer in 2020. The senator said he had known Colyer since medical school and that Colyer would be loyal to “traditional Kansas values we were both raised on” in rural Kansas.
“He’s the same person as when we first met,” Marshall said. “A trustworthy, plainspoken Kansas doctor who’s yes is a yes. His no is a no. He’s one of us. He’s always been humble and never afraid of work.”
In response to the Colyer announcement, Schmidt issued a statement that concluded Marshall was bound by an agreement with Colyer on endorsements. Colyer, however, said there was no quid pro quo.
“I respect Roger Marshall for keeping his pledge made in the heat of last year’s U.S. Senate primary to swap endorsements with Jeff,” the attorney general said. “After all, a deal’s a deal.”
Schmidt also said Kansas Republicans shouldn’t hand the nomination to Colyer after he proved “too weak to keep the nomination of our own party, must less stop Laura Kelly.”
“The stakes are too high to risk losing again in 2022,” Schmidt said. “I’m the only proven winner in this race. The only trusted leader Kansans can county on to defeat Governor Kelly.”
Vicki Hiatt, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the eight years of Govs. Brownback and Colyer “was nothing short of a disaster for Kansas families.”
“Colyer may not want to talk about his record,” she said, “but Kansans remember it. We lived through it. Colyer was a disaster for our economy, a disaster for our schools, a disaster for our roads and bridges and a disaster for our foster care system. The last thing Kansans want to do is a return to the disastrous leadership that brought our state to its knees.”
During the news conference in Topeka, Colyer said that as governor the state created a $900 million budget surplus. Much of that was due to repeal in 2017 of most of the Brownback income tax program, which was blamed for starving core functions of state government from education to highways to social services. Colyer also said household income and employment reached high levels during his administration.
Colyer didn’t want to specifically address the tax program adopted by the Legislature in 2012 and 2013 and signed by Brownback, noting: “I’m not talking about the past. I’m talking about where are we going as a state.” He did say people were moving to Texas and Florida to avoid paying income tax.
Implementing conservative political ideas wasn’t easy in Kansas, he said, and the “other side” would inevitably attack those with a conservative agenda. He said he’d been in dozens of hostile countries as a volunteer physician and wasn’t afraid of people taking shots at him.
“Right now,” Colyer said, “we have a governor who would prefer to open our borders and close our schools. We have a governor that tries to prevent people from celebrating Easter together, while declaring abortion clinics essential. We have a governor who says convicted felons should get vaccines before law-abiding Kansans with life-threatening medical conditions.”
He was referring to Kelly’s decisions early in the COVID-19 pandemic to suspend in-person instruction in K-12 schools and to limit size of mass gatherings at churches because testing showed outbreaks of coronavirus were occurring among groups of worshipers. The governor did declare abortion clinics and hospitals as essential when defining what entities had to briefly close in the pandemic. The governor did prioritize prison inmates for vaccinations because correctional facilities struggled to contain COVID-19 among staff and prisoners.
Colyer also said that if elected governor he wouldn’t endorse expansion of Medicaid to more than 100,000 lower-income Kansans, a policy consistent with the Brownback administration and his own. He did encourage Kansans to get a vaccination for the coronavirus, but believed such decisions were an individual choice. Kansas doesn’t have a vaccination mandate.