Colyer to announce personnel changes Friday, other policy changes next week

During his first full day on the job, Gov. Jeff Colyer speaks with reporters, saying he intends to announce some major personnel and policy changes in the coming days.

? During his first full day in office, newly inaugurated Gov. Jeff Colyer said he plans to make some immediate staff shakeups in the governor’s office on Friday, and he will announce other initiatives dealing with government transparency and sexual harassment in the Statehouse next week.

He also plans to deliver his own speech to a joint session of the Legislature at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, where he is expected to announce other priorities.

Those comments came during Colyer’s first news conference with the Statehouse press corps since being sworn into office Wednesday afternoon.

“(On Friday), we will be announcing, we’ll be making some major personnel changes, and some restructuring changes as well, how we operate government,” Colyer said. “There will be some executive orders, and there will be some personnel changes as well.”

Colyer did not say whether the personnel changes would involve cabinet-level secretaries.

In the weeks and months leading up to his inauguration, though, Colyer had already begun putting together his own inner circle of staff, including the hiring of Kendall Marr and Kara Fullmer to lead his communications team, as well as hiring his own team of policy advisers.

He was also actively involved as lieutenant governor in naming Jeff Andersen earlier this month as the new Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the selection in November of Gina Meier-Hummel to be the new Secretary of the Department for Children and Families.

Although Colyer said he plans to outline measures next week to combat sexual harassment and improve transparency in state government, he did not provide further details. Top lawmakers plan to revise the Legislature’s policy on sexual harassment, which has been in place since 1994. Some legislators also are pursuing open-government measures this session.

The 35-minute conversation with reporters had a markedly different tone compared to news conferences held by Colyer’s predecessor, former Gov. Sam Brownback.

For one thing, it took place in Colyer’s newly redecorated private office, rather than the ceremonial office normally used for bill signings and other public events. And instead of standing at a podium, with reporters huddled in a horseshoe lineup around him, Colyer sat in a chair, while reporters sat on sofas or cushioned guest chairs around him.

The offices themselves even have a new look. Gone was the collection of taxidermic animals and birds that adorned the office during the Brownback administration. Those are gradually being replaced with artwork on the walls. Even the large buffalo head mounted above the governor’s ceremonial desk will soon be removed, an aide in the governor’s office said.

The news conference, which was more like an informal conversation with reporters, took place in the afternoon, following a morning when Colyer met separately with leaders of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Legislature.

Democratic leaders have noted for years that they were rarely, if ever, invited to the governor’s office during the Brownback administration.

During the conversation with reporters, Colyer answered questions on a wide range of topics, from education spending and Medicaid expansion to his ongoing campaign for a full term of his own in the governor’s office and speculation about whom he might pick to serve as his lieutenant governor.

Public school funding: Colyer said this was the biggest challenge facing him and the Legislature.

And while he indicated he is not necessarily wedded to Brownback’s plan for phasing in a $600 million per-year increase in funding over the next five years, he said that plan will probably have to serve as the framework for discussions moving forward, even if the final package ends up looking different.

“I think, at this point in the legislative process, we’re almost to first adjournment here,” he said, referring to the Feb. 22 deadline for most bills to pass out of their chamber of origin. “I don’t think there’s time, and it’s appropriate, to go and change everything. And we’re going to work very diligently with the Legislature on those pieces.”

Future of KanCare: As lieutenant governor, Colyer was the chief architect of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. But Republicans in the Legislature have pushed back on his proposal to expand on the concept by revamping the program under the heading “KanCare 2.0,” which would include, among other things, imposing a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients.

GOP leaders have said they still have too many concerns about continuing problems in the existing program. And during his meeting with Republican leaders earlier in the day, Colyer said, he did not come to any agreement on how to move forward with that program.

“Those discussions are ongoing on KanCare,” he said. “I think there are a lot of ideas. I’ve been in this job not even for 24 hours, but that’s a very complex decision, and it involves Washington, D.C., CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), it involves legislators, it involves providers, and we’re working on that. That one’s going to take time. It is just a complicated issue.”

Medicaid expansion: President Donald Trump’s administration recently signaled that it would start allowing states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, a break from the policies of past administrations dating back to the program’s beginnings in the 1960s.

Since then, a number of other Republican-led states that have chosen not to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act have begun considering plans to do so, provided they can do it with a work requirement.

But Colyer, who has long been a staunch opponent of Obamacare, said he is still not ready to start considering Medicaid expansion yet.

“The Trump administration has also said that they want to eliminate the Medicaid expansion program,” Colyer said. “And many people in the (U.S.) Senate and the House say that they are going to make another run at that later this year. I’m not very good at predicting D.C.”

2018 campaign: Colyer said he will probably campaign less than he otherwise would have if he weren’t governor during the lead-up to the Aug. 7 primary, a race in which he faces six major contenders.

“For me, the best politics in this is to do your job, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to focus on that,” he said.

Colyer did, however, say he was surprised Thursday when one of the other major candidates, former Rep. Ed O’Malley, announced he was ending his campaign.

“Ed is a good guy, and yes, I was surprised,” he said. “Ed is a very good man, and he ran a really interesting race. He brought some new ideas, and I like his energy. I liked that he was willing to put things out there.”

Next lieutenant governor: Colyer’s praise of O’Malley naturally raised the follow-up question: Does he think O’Malley would make a good lieutenant governor? That question prompted him to laugh, because he said he had apparently been waiting for something like it to be asked.

“We’re in the very final stages of that process, and I would expect in a few weeks, I won’t set a date with you, but you’ll see it shortly,” he said.