Outgoing Gov. Sam Brownback struggled briefly to identify a personal capstone achievement after more than six years as the chief executive officer of Kansas government.
He expressed hope during a swan-song news conference at the Capitol that his constituents would eventually recognize, despite ranking him among the nation’s least popular governors, that he contributed to small business development, expansion of technical education opportunities, prison reform and water conservation. It would be nice, he said, to be mentioned by folks hiking on dozens of miles of new Flint Hills trails.
But, in the final analysis, Brownback said his greatest contribution as governor was fierce opposition to abortion.
“We’re a pro-life state and we’re not going back,” said Brownback, reflecting on adoption of 19 anti-abortion measures that meant “a bunch of kids born that would not have been born.
“The inherent dignity of human life at any stage is the central issue of our day. That’s the one,” he said.
As with most analysis of the Brownback era, sharp division exists about the governor’s legacy in abortion politics.
“After he came to office, it was just an avalanche of anti-choice bills. What he calls his greatest, I’d call his worse,” said Julie Burkhart, who founded Trust Women and worked with George Tiller, the abortion physician murdered in 2009 during a Wichita church service.
Making sense of it
Brownback is prepared to resign as governor once confirmed by the U.S. Senate as ambassador of religious freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump.
He’ll turn state affairs over to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who lavished praise on the Republican governor for a lifetime of dedicated service.
“Sam Brownback has served our state and our citizens with distinction,” Colyer said. “I will be forever grateful.”
Brownback said he regretted not doing more to strengthen family structure in Kansas, but his influence was felt on policy and law tied to taxes, budgets, Medicaid, education, guns, water conservation, welfare, wind energy and abortion.
Burdette Loomis, who served briefly in the administration of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said Brownback departs for Washington, D.C., with a whimper rather than a howl.
“Sam Brownback, by some reckoning the most popular electoral politician in Kansas history, has ended his political career by simply drifting away,” Loomis said. “Honestly, save for his veto pen, he has not proven a major force in Kansas politics and policymaking since his narrow re-election victory in 2014.”