After Long Wait in Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback Gets Ambassadorship

Source: By MITCH SMITH, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas on Wednesday after the Senate took action on his nomination to be ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was narrowly confirmed to an ambassadorship on Wednesday after a six-month wait that left Kansans increasingly confused about who was in charge of their state.

The Senate split 49-49 along party lines on the nomination of Mr. Brownback, a Republican who has grown unpopular in Kansas, to be ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.

Many religious leaders praised Mr. Brownback’s confirmation, and said he could use his political experience to help religious minorities, including oppressed Christian and Yazidi communities in the Middle East.

“He has been a consistent, vocal, competent and impassioned advocate for these issues,” said the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a Southern Baptist minister who served on the evangelical advisory board for President Trump’s campaign. “It was all very logical to us that he would be the nominee, and we were thrilled by it.”

Many Democrats and gay rights advocates opposed the nomination of Mr. Brownback, who ended anti-discrimination protections for gay state workers in 2015.

Mr. Brownback, who served seven years as governor after stints in both chambers of Congress, drew national attention to Kansas after he oversaw the largest income tax cuts in state history. But the missed revenue forecasts and wholesale cuts to state services that followed led many legislative Republicans to buck Mr. Brownback and undo his signature policy last year.

Mr. Brownback, whose term would have ended next January, was passed over for more prominent jobs in the Trump administration. When he was nominated for the religious freedom ambassadorship last summer, many expected a swift confirmation.

Mr. Brownback began handing off tasks to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer after he was nominated, but month after awkward month passed in Topeka without a confirmation vote. Mr. Trump had to renominate Mr. Brownback this month after the full Senate declined to vote last year.

“Our state’s been in kind of a leadership vacuum of chaos,” said Jim Ward, the Democratic leader in the Kansas House of Representatives and a candidate for governor. “It’s really slowed down and pretty much stopped all progress on any kind of policy because you’ve got two different guys acting like the governor.”

Mr. Colyer, a Republican and a plastic surgeon from suburban Kansas City, will assume the governorship once Mr. Brownback resigns, likely in the coming days.

Mr. Colyer, who is seeking a full term as governor in the election this year, will face several challengers in the Republican primary.