President Trump to Nominate Kansas Gov. Brownback to Serve as Religious Freedom Ambassador

WASHINGTON (Reuters/AP) -
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

The White House on Wednesday announced that President Donald Trump plans to nominate Kansas Gov. Brownback to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll run the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

Brownback, who previously served in both the House of Representatives and Senate, would assume the position created in the State Department by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, of which he was one of the key sponsors.

Kansas officials expect Mr. Brownback to step down as governor when he is confirmed by the Senate, but his office wouldn’t discuss his plans Wednesday evening. Gov. Brownback’s fellow Republicans called the job a good fit for him, and some conservative religious groups had pushed for the appointment.

Gov. Brownback’s departure would automatically elevate fellow conservative Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor.

Gov. Brownback will be best remembered for championing cuts in Kansas personal income taxes starting in 2012. The state was supposed to get a “shot of adrenaline to the heart” of its economy.

He described it as a state-level experiment that would demonstrate the benefits of tax-cutting theory that dates back to Ronald Reagan’s administration, with Kansas even hiring Reagan economist Arthur Laffer to provide advice and promote the results. Cutting taxes — in particular for business owners — would spur hiring, creating wealth that would trickle down to everyone.

It’s still GOP orthodoxy, and Trump has set similar tax-cutting goals. But in Kansas, the cuts failed to deliver the economic growth the governor had promised, and persistent and sometimes severe budget problems followed.

“His policies have bankrupted our state and led to destroying nearly every agency of state government as well as his own political career,” said Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and a vocal critic.

With the state’s economy struggling, Mr. Brownback won re-election with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2014 by suggesting the state could have it all. Kansas could keep his core income tax cuts without sacrificing spending on schools or social services.

Instead, the state muddled along with temporary budget patches, raiding highway funds, shorting public pensions and then boosting sales and cigarette taxes.

Fellow Republicans across the nation watched the Kansas experiment closely and were not impressed. GOP lawmakers in Missouri enacted tax cuts but went slower and tied them to growth in tax revenues. In South Carolina, an unsuccessful pitch for tax cuts prompted then-Gov. Nikki Haley to say, “We are not doing what Kansas did.”

Candidate Trump carried Kansas easily in 2016, but voters turned on Gov. Brownback and his allies, ousting two dozen of his conservative allies from the Legislature and giving Democrats and GOP moderates more power.

The Kansas Legislature repudiated Gov. Brownback’s program in June, rolling back most of those past tax cuts, raising rates and ending an exemption for more than 330,000 farmers and business owners to raise $1.2 billion over two years. Gov. Brownback vetoed their bill, and they overrode his action.

He was re-elected in 2014 and is not eligible to serve a third consecutive term.