Newly appointed governor Jeff Colyer is structuring his administration more in the fashion of a corporation, as demonstrated by his appointment of a chief operating officer earlier this week.
Other states such as Oregon have already done it, and Colyer previously described his job as lieutenant governor as being akin to that of a COO last year.
The comments were given Saturday during an interview at a meet-and-greet with Colyer at Traditions Sandwich and Soda Shop in Garden City. Colyer's stop was part of an eight-stop tour on Saturday. The visit came shortly after his appointment to the governor’s office on Wednesday in the wake of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s departure to Washington, D.C., for his new role as ambassador of religious freedom in the Trump administration.
Colyer’s transition into the governorship has seemingly been in the works for weeks. He noted that in the last few weeks, four different cabinet secretaries have been replaced, the governor’s office has been “rearranged,” and 22 different positions have changed as part of a restructuring that includes the new COO office.
Colyer called the introduction of the new position “a more corporate way, a more business way” of doing things.
Rep. Larry Campbell, R-Olathe, was selected to replace budget director Shawn Sullivan. Sullivan was named the new Kansas COO, a job that will reach across multiple agencies and address issues such as Medicaid eligibility.
Democrats have criticized the personnel changes.
Colyer says he has already met with members of both Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and Senate. “And for some people,” Colyer said, “it had been a long time since they had been in the governor’s office.”
With the top legislative issue of the 2018 session being a solution to the school finance formula, which is due to the Kansas Supreme Court by April 30, Colyer isn’t stepping into an easy position.
When asked if he supports Brownback’s call to add $600 million in education spending over the next five years, Colyer said alternatives are in the works, but nothing is set in stone.
Colyer says leaders on both sides of the aisle are looking into different budget proposals right now.
“We’re going to let them finish that proposal,” Colyer said. “Making a new proposal right now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until they complete their work. It’s now in the legislative process. I’m committed to working with them on it.”
Colyer put jobs at the top of his list of priorities. As for the rest of Kansas’ myriad issues, Colyer referenced his vocation as a plastic surgeon in his assessment of what needs to be done — Kansas is just a body in need of a little surgical finesse.
“As a surgeon, you learn it’s not what’s on the surface, it’s what’s underneath, and that’s what I’m interested in doing is real long-term solutions for us,” Colyer said.
Part of that effort, he said, will be putting in the time and work it takes to get the job done. He said he’s going to work 80 to 100 hours a week, or “surgeon hours” vs. “politician hours,” as Colyer phrased it.
Colyer also expressed an interest in shrinking government. Although the introduction of the COO office ostensibly represents a government expansion of sorts, he noted that one of the “coolest” things he did in his role as lieutenant governor was help to “eliminate an entire cabinet agency.”
Colyer was referring to the merger of the Kansas Health Policy Authority — an agency unanimously approved by the House and Senate in 2005 that was designed to control the majority of state government’s health care spending — with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“What we really need is we need better management across all of these different programs,” Colyer said.
He suggested creating more information overlap between agencies to improve and consolidate services.
“What you’re going to see from me is I’m going to start insisting on outcomes from our different programs that we have, and I want to measure them and I want people to see what we’re doing,” Colyer said. “We can’t change it all overnight, but I think if people realize that we’re watching and we have expectations, then we can make government more responsible.”
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.