Colyer’s narrow miss in 2018 fueling resurgent GOP campaign for governor

Former governor facing stiff competition in primary — again

By: - July 12, 2021 9:00 am
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who lost the 2018 Republican primary for governor, said in an interview GOP candidates in Kansas can't get media coverage consistent with reporting on Democratic candidates. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who lost the 2018 Republican primary for governor, said in an interview GOP candidates in Kansas can’t get media coverage consistent with reporting on Democratic candidates. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Republican Jeff Colyer is confident he would have defeated Democrat Laura Kelly in the November 2018 race for governor.

The impediment to a Colyer-Kelly showdown, of course, was that Colyer fell 172 votes short of beating Kris Kobach in the closest statewide GOP primary election in Kansas history.

“Everybody agrees that if we had won that primary, we’d be in a different position now,” Colyer said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “So, we are approaching the situation differently.”

Kansas voters had repeatedly rewarded Kobach with election as secretary of state, but weren’t willing to take a chance on Kobach as governor. Instead, Kelly became the state’s 48th governor three years ago. She’s seeking re-election in 2022, and Colyer is competing against Attorney General Derek Schmidt in the Republican gubernatorial primary for the opportunity to finally go toe-to-toe with her.

Colyer, who served as governor for one year after Sam Brownback resigned in 2018 to work for President Donald Trump, was the state’s longest-serving lieutenant governor. He said eight years in the executive branch and four years in the Kansas Legislature provided valuable experience and perspective.

He launched his current campaign in April in response to actions by Kelly to push social and economic policies that took a toll on the state. He used the GOP’s often-repeated attack line that Kelly closed schools and churches while keeping abortion clinics open during the pandemic. More precisely, the Democratic governor transitioned K-12 education to an online format and sought to limit capacity of church gatherings to avoid spread of COVID-19. Abortion clinics did continue to operate as essential health care providers despite the pandemic.

“I wanted to get out and look at people and talk with folks and really build our message,” Colyer said. “We’re building a little different team. We have some of our old team, but we’re adding a horn section, you know, to the band.”

Colyer, 61, said the objective wasn’t to reinvent himself, but expand on the idea that he offered the state’s 2.9 million residents a person who would competently get the job done as an “authentic conservative” governor. That boils down to a state government dedicated to low taxes and minimal regulation in anticipation the economy would grow and serve as a magnet for the younger generation, he said.

“Kansas needs to be the dynamic state where our economy is growing, where our kids see their future in the state of Kansas, rather than leaving the state,” Colyer said.


Vaccine passports?

Colyer has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann and Mary Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Schmidt has been embraced by former U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Robert Dole.

Colyer is a Johnson County plastic surgeon. He graduated from a Catholic high school in Hays, and earned an economics degree at Georgetown University and his medical degree at the University of Kansas. He volunteered with the International Medical Corps and worked in Rwanda, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

in 2002, he lost in the Republican primary in the 3rd District congressional seat won by Democrat Dennis Moore. He was elected to the Kansas House in 2006 and the Kansas Senate two years later. In 2010, Brownback drafted him as his running mate. They were re-elected in 2014, but secured 100,000 fewer votes in their first campaign. He assumed the governorship in early 2018, lost the primary to Kobach, and departed office in 2019.

Colyer said he was disappointed with Kelly’s ability to organize COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. He also defended the right of people to reject both. He said the governor should have issued an executive order banning so-called vaccine passports, which would identify a person as vaccinated.

“This is an issue of personal choice,” Colyer said. “If you trust Kansans, and you educate them, they will make good decisions.”

He supports passage by Kansas voters of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution rejecting the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision that found a right to abortion embedded in the state’s Bill of Rights. Advocates of the amendment contend the state’s highest court jeopardized a long list of laws adopted to narrow access to abortion.

“Abortion is clearly not who we are,” Colyer said. “And, so, the Value Them Both amendment allows the state to regulate it. I think it’s very important that the issue of life be on the ballot, but then you have to have a conservative governor afterwards to make sure that those policies are put in place.”


Critical race theory

Colyer said he was opposed to teaching critical race theory in public schools. The idea is based on the premise racism gave rise and reinforced the country’s economic and political institutions. In the past year, some Republicans have denounced the theory as a form of political correctness inappropriate for schools or workplaces.

“That the sins of our great-, great-, great-grandfathers should be visited on children 200 years later is wrong. We need to deal with race issues. But this notion of setting people against people is absolutely wrong,” he said.

In K-12 public school districts, Colyer said, children in failing classrooms deserved an opportunity to get a good education elsewhere. Excessive unemployment benefits authorized by Congress are harming the ability of Kansas companies to hire enough people to operate. The hundreds of millions of dollars lost by Kansas to fraudulent unemployment claimants is “outrageous to me,” he said.

He’s opposed to expansion of eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“Most people don’t want more Obamacare in Kansas,” he said. “We’d rather have more private insurance.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.