Kansas has a new governor, and the state senator for Atchison and most of Northeast Kansas wants to ensure the Senate has a say in picking his potential successor.
Reached by phone Thursday, Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said that he believes it is imperative for the Senate to be able to “look under the rock” before Gov. Jeff Colyer’s choice to be lieutenant governor takes office.
“The potential exists for that person to become our governor,” Pyle said. “Without having stood for any election.”
Pyle introduced legislation Thursday that would require a majority of the Senate to approve Colyer’s choice, which Pyle said may become known in the week of Monday, Feb. 5 following Colyer’s Jan. 31 inauguration as governor.
Former Gov. Sam Brownback now serves in the administration of President Donald Trump as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; he resigned as governor to take that position, elevating Colyer.
Pyle said Colyer’s nominee for lieutenant governor, if there is one, would take office immediately under the current statute.
That’s a concern for him because that law dates back to before 1974, when Kansas began electing lieutenant governors at the same time as governors, to four-year terms, on the same ticket. Before then, lieutenant governors sought election separately for two years.
Going forward, Pyle said, the Senate — which scrutinizes the candidates for most other appointed offices in the state government — should be allowed to vet someone who might serve for a large part of a four-year term without having been elected.
At any time during that period, that person might succeed to the governorship, leaving Kansas under the charge of a person who the voters of Kansas don’t necessarily know, Pyle said.
“It’d kinda be like walking along the edge of a cliff in the dark,” Pyle said.
Pyle’s effort to introduce confirmation for the lieutenant governor’s office comes in a year beset by significant legislative challenges.
Because of a ruling in the Gannon v. Kansas education case by the state Supreme Court, lawmakers must provide at least $500 million to K-12 school districts by most estimates, though the court has declined to name a specific dollar amount.
If lawmakers do not agree on an amount with the districts, and do not find some way to evade the court’s ruling, the dispute that has lasted over three lawsuits involving dozens of districts since 1990 may go on.
Amid all of that, more than 20 people are seeking to replace Colyer as governor, while he seeks to win a full term, and each member of the Kansas House of Representatives is also on the November ballot. Senators like Pyle last stood for election in 2016 and serve for four years.
Pyle said he hasn’t heard input from Colyer on who his pick might be, when exactly the choice might be made, or how receptive Colyer will be toward putting a confirmation requirement on his nominee.
“My relationship with Jeff is pretty good,” Pyle said. “He was in the House before he came to the Senate, and I’ve served with him. We’ve had dinners and worked closely on the issues in the past.”
Colyer would have to sign the legislation for it to become law.
“I hope that we good get debate about this on the floor,” Pyle said. “It’s necessary to put a check on power.”