New poll shows how far Colyer is behind Kobach in one key area

In this March 9, 2017, file photo, Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, left, and Gov. Sam Brownback participate in a humanitarian award ceremony at the statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has scheduled a news conference Monday to announce proposed budget enhancements for the Department for Children and Families.

That’s unusual for two reasons: First, because it is rare for anyone other than the governor’s office to announce budget proposals before the governor himself does so, and Gov. Sam Brownback isn’t expected to announce details of his budget plan until Wednesday.

It’s also unusual for Colyer who, even though he is running for governor, has had to keep a low profile on policy issues while waiting for Brownback to be confirmed for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration.

But a newly released “Kansas Speaks” poll from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University may shed some light on why it’s important now for Colyer to come out from under Brownback’s shadow.

The survey asked 434 Kansas adults whether they had ever heard of various Kansas politicians. Only 38 percent of them said “yes” when asked about the lieutenant governor. That compares to 86 percent who recognized the name of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the politician with the highest name recognition, due in part, no doubt, to the fact that he appears regularly in national conservative news media.

The survey also showed only 29 percent of respondents were at least “somewhat confident” with Jeff Colyer taking over as Kansas governor.

But the news wasn’t all bad for Colyer, nor was it all good for Kobach. Although Kobach may have the highest name recognition, it evidently isn’t for positive reasons. Only 30 percent of those surveyed said they had a somewhat or highly positive opinion about his job performance, while a whopping 47 percent had a negative opinion of him, including 37 percent calling their opinion of him “highly negative.”

Colyer fared a little better, with 34 percent saying they had a positive opinion of him, and only 23 percent with a negative opinion. But that left 48 percent of respondents with no particular opinion about him one way or another — not a big motivator for people to vote for him or write checks to his campaign.

The highest rated politicians in the poll were the three leading Democratic candidates running for governor at the time the poll was taken in the fall of 2017. Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had the highest positive rating, at 46 percent. He was followed by former Rep. Josh Svaty of Ellsworth, at 44 percent, and current House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, at 40 percent.

The survey did not ask about Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, because she didn’t get into the race until mid-December.

Colyer had been planning to come out of the shadows much earlier, pending Brownback’s confirmation to a diplomatic post in the Trump administration. But that has been stalled in the U.S. Senate, and now Brownback, not Colyer, will deliver the high-profile State of the State address next week.

Brownback will be leaving office amid historically low approval ratings, with 70 percent of those polled expressing some level of dissatisfaction, and 62 percent approving of him resigning to take a job in the Trump administration. Obviously aware of that, other GOP candidates in the governor’s race have started routinely linking their names in public statements, referencing the “Brownback-Colyer administration” and “Brownback-Colyer tax policies.”

Monday’s news conference about proposed budget enhancements for DCF could help Colyer turn things around.

Problems at DCF, and particularly the state foster care system that it manages, have been scandalous for the Brownback administration amid news reports about 70-plus foster children who had gone missing, children being forced to spend the night in social workers’ offices due to shortages of emergency placement spaces, and children being killed while in the state’s custody.

That makes improving the child welfare system a pretty good issue for Colyer to use to start elevating his own profile and separating himself from Brownback.

Amid those reports, even Republican lawmakers started calling for ousting then-DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who ended up retiring Dec. 1. Then, in what appeared to be part of a transition process, Colyer was allowed to announce the hiring of a new secretary, Gina Meier-Hummel of Lawrence, who had been director of the Children’s Shelter. She is scheduled to join him at the news conference.