The Statehouse guessing game: Who will be the next lieutenant governor?
As Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer prepares to take over as governor at 3 p.m. Wednesday, there is one question that seems to dominate almost every conversation in the hallways of the Statehouse: Who will be the next lieutenant governor?
Under Kansas law, Colyer will have authority to appoint the new lieutenant governor, and it doesn’t even require Senate confirmation. But neither the law nor the Kansas Constitution provide any deadline for how quickly that appointment needs to be made.
So far, only two things are known for certain about Colyer’s decision. He won’t make any announcement this week, according to his communications office. And nobody knows for certain who is on the list of potential candidates.
That, however, hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the choice.
One name that comes up in multiple conversations, though, is Kansas State Board of Education member Jim McNiece of Wichita.
McNiece is viewed as a moderate Republican who has worked as both a teacher and school administrator in both Catholic and public school systems in the Wichita area.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, McNiece confirmed that he and Colyer have spoken about the possibility. “But that was months ago.”
“My guess is they’ve moved on,” McNiece said. “We don’t chat very often.”
One complicating factor for Colyer is that he is stepping into the governor’s office in the middle of an election year in which he is also vying, amid heavy competition, for the Republican nomination to a full term of his own as governor. That could scare away potential candidates if they think the job might not last beyond January 2019.
Traditionally, candidates for governor don’t announce their lieutenant governor running mate until the summer before the August primary, so it is possible he could wait until then. But that would leave a big hole in the line of succession until that time.
Another issue is that the lieutenant governor doesn’t really have any formal job duties other than those the governor assigns. The job only pays about $54,000 a year and is generally thought to be a part-time job, which makes it difficult to convince someone to give up their current job.
Some governors, however, have had their lieutenant governors pull double duty as cabinet secretaries, jobs that pay considerably better than the lieutenant governor. Former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, for example, had two lieutenant governors during his eight years in office: Sheila Frahm, who also served as Secretary of Administration; and Gary Sherrer, who also served as Commerce Secretary.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ first lieutenant governor, John Moore, also served as Commerce Secretary for about the first two years of Sebelius’ first term. He stepped down from that post in September 2004 to become the state’s first “full time” lieutenant governor.
The last time there was a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office was in 2011, when Sebelius resigned during her second term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. That elevated then-Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to the office of governor.
Parkinson chose Troy Findley, a former Democratic lawmaker from Lawrence, to be his lieutenant governor. Findley had been serving as chief of staff for Sebelius.
It is not known whether anyone among Gov. Sam Brownback’s senior staff is on the short list. At least one, however, has said flatly that he is not interested, former House Speaker and former State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, who has served as Brownback’s legislative liaison throughout the administration. Shallenburger was the GOP nominee for governor in 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully against Sebelius.
That leaves a wide-open field of politicians, cabinet secretaries, senior staff and even business leaders from whom Colyer could make his pick. As of now, though, there is no clear indication from anyone about whom Colyer might pick.