Brownback begins transition to governor

? Sam Brownback began his transition back home to Kansas on Wednesday, setting up shop in the Statehouse and meeting with the governor he replaces in early January.

After 16 years in Washington — two representing the 2nd District in the House and 14 in the Senate — the 54-year-old Republican returns to face looming budget challenges and an economy stuck in low gear.

“I love this state, I really do,” Brownback said in an interview with The Associated Press after being declared the winner Tuesday. “But we’ve got to get government out of the way. There is reason to be optimistic.”

Brownback met with Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson on Wednesday to discuss handing over the reins. Statehouse crews were converting two legislative committee rooms into Brownback’s transition headquarters. Parkinson named a three-member team to help the process, headed by Lt. Gov. Troy Findley.

“Together, we will work together to ensure that critical services are not adversely affected by the transition,” Brownback said in a statement after the meeting.

The governor-elect planned to hold a news conference today to announce his transition team.

Certain to be a topic over the next few weeks will be projections for the 2012 budget.

A group of economists and researchers have forecast that despite a 1-cent increase in the sales tax in July, the current budget is about $60 million short, if all obligations are met. The bigger problem is the 2012 budget with an estimated shortfall of $500 million, due in large part to an increase in caseloads for social services, pension obligations and the expiration of some $492 million in federal stimulus funds used this year.

A freeze in government spending along with program cuts are at the top of Brownback’s list of methods for squaring the books.

Stephanie Bessent, a Lawrence dental office manager, considers herself “a strong Republican.” She voted for Brownback, not liking what she’s seeing at the state or national level. Bessent also thinks government should stop enabling people through entitlements and make them contributors to society.

“I don’t have any opinions about what he needs to be doing, other than that I’m unhappy with what’s going on,” said Bessent, 37.

Brownback does have the luxury of strong Republican majorities in both legislative chambers that will give his agenda a warmer reception.

After Tuesday’s election, the House swung significantly to the right, picking up not only seats but also more conservatives who will be receptive to scaling back state spending. According to unofficial results, Republicans would have as many as 92 of the 125 House seats, if the outcomes stand.