TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.
Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon who is the lieutenant governor, was widely expected to succeed Mr. Brownback and kick off the 2018 legislative session, and Mr. Colyer even announced a new cabinet appointment.
But on Monday afternoon, as lawmakers began meeting in the State Capitol for the start of the new legislative session, Mr. Brownback was still the governor.
And there is no certainty about when he might actually depart this stage, even after the White House on Monday renominated him for the post. The entire matter has left some Kansans befuddled, some Democratic lawmakers smug, and some Brownback supporters a little sheepish.
Some Kansans said that it was not entirely clear who was truly in charge of the state, and for how long.
“From day to day, no, we don’t know,” said Jay Armstrong, a carpenter, as he picked up a hot dog at a gas station in Topeka on Monday morning. “Are we going to wait until we vote for a new governor? Or are we going to be governor-less?”
It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. Meanwhile, Mr. Colyer, who is 57 and from suburban Kansas City, is in the wings, a patient deputy waiting for his moment. Mr. Brownback is planning to deliver the annual State of the State address in Topeka on Tuesday.
In the eyes of many Kansans, the whole thing is getting a little awkward.
“Our poor state has such a weird reputation right now anyway,” said Teresa Briggs, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “But Brownback doesn’t seem upset, or like it’s anything out of the ordinary. I personally would be embarrassed. It’s very uncomfortable for everybody.”
Bob Murray, a spokesman for Mr. Brownback, said in an email that the governor “fully expects” to be confirmed for the ambassadorship. He attributed the delay to the Senate’s focus on passing a tax bill at the end of 2017.
Members of Mr. Brownback’s own party seem just as puzzled by the situation as Democrats.
“I figured it was a done deal,” said State Representative Leo Delperdang, a Republican from Wichita. “Now I’m just not convinced it’s going to happen.”
Representative Brett Parker, a Democrat from Overland Park, said the last six months have been spent in a confusing state of limbo, with Mr. Brownback having one foot out the door.
“I don’t think he’s doing a service to citizens of Kansas,” Mr. Parker said. “There’s a lot of sentiment that says, ‘Can he just go to Washington already?’ ”
For much of last year, the governor appeared eager to do just that.
After sweeping into office in 2011 with promises to make Kansas a model of conservatism, he signed his signature tax cuts into law during his first term, promising that they would fuel growth. But fiscal distress followed, with the state collecting hundreds of millions of dollars less in revenue each year.
Eventually, Mr. Brownback’s own party revolted. In June, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to roll back the tax cuts, overriding the governor’s veto.
“It was a rejection of his governorship,” said Patrick R. Miller, a political-science professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. “Then the ambassadorship happened and people thought, ‘This will go quick. Then he won’t have to suffer the humiliation of serving out the rest of his term.’ ”
Even his critics in Kansas conceded that the job as ambassador was well suited to Mr. Brownback, a convert to Catholicism who frequently speaks of his faith. Announcing the nomination last July, he wrote on Twitter: “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
The governor seemed to begin gradually handing control over to Mr. Colyer last fall. In November, it was Mr. Colyer, not Mr. Brownback, who appointed a new leader of Kansas’ beleaguered child welfare agency. Mr. Colyer began to appear more frequently in public than his role as lieutenant governor typically required, lawmakers said. He was a prominent voice at luncheons and legislative meetings to discuss the 2018 session. The next budget, Mr. Colyer’s spokesman said in November, would be handled by Mr. Colyer “to ensure a smooth transition.”
Throughout the fall, legislators said they kept hearing rumors that Mr. Colyer’s inauguration would be happening in the next week or two. But as 2017 drew to a close, so too did the chance for Mr. Brownback to get a confirmation vote.
Last week, Mr. Brownback addressed the uncertainty about his role in Kansas by saying on Twitter: “Looking forward to another great legislative session. I will remain Governor until confirmed by the U.S. Senate.”
In the State Capitol for the first day of the new legislative session, Mr. Colyer smiled politely on Monday when asked if he was any closer to knowing when he would succeed Mr. Brownback.
“Nope, no — we believe he’ll be renominated here shortly,” Mr. Colyer said several hours before the White House announced the renomination of Mr. Brownback on Monday.
The Kansas City Star called in December for Mr. Brownback’s resignation, writing that Kansans “need a real, full-time governor and not one who’s waiting for his ride.”
Even members of his own party say they wonder if he should step down.
There is a crowded field for the Republican nomination for governor in the 2018 campaign (Mr. Brownback would not be able to run again because of term limits). Mr. Colyer is still relatively unknown statewide, a circumstance likelier to shift if he were elevated to governor. Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, is considered the front-runner in the Republican field.
State Representative Ken Corbet, a Republican, said he believed either man — Mr. Brownback or Mr. Colyer — would do a fine job as governor this year. But only Mr. Brownback, he said, can make the final choice.
“Everybody would like to have an end to this,” Mr. Corbet said of the uncertainty over Mr. Brownback’s departure date. “But he’s governor until he resigns or serves his term. That’s Realville, right there.”
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