As Gov. Sam Brownback has moved on to duties as ambassador-at-large of international religious freedom, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, MD has stepped up to the plate as Kansas's new leader, effective Jan. 31.

In his first week as governor, the Overland Park physician has some big shoes to fill and many responsibilities to take over. While it may seem like a lot of pressure to take over the last year and a half of Brownback’s final term, Colyer has taken his new position with ease.

After visiting many communities and talking with residents, Colyer is eager to hear and work with those residents on fixing issues they see in their towns.

Colyer talked with the McPherson Sentinel on Saturday during his visit to McPherson and covered current issues like taxes, education and goals he has in mind for Kansas. 

State tour

Visiting communities has been a top priority for Colyer and his team, as he has already visited a handful of Kansas' cities and towns.

While visiting communities may not be on the top list for other leaders for Colyer, having Kansas residents know their governor personally is something that hits home to him.

"I think people need to meet their governor and I know that people don't know me as well. I think that the more we're visiting with people and talking with them about their issues in their communities, we see what's going on," Colyer explained. "What is happening in McPherson, how do we grow and what are some of its challenges here? That’s very different from Garden City, Johnson County or even Wichita. I think part of my role is to really try to partner with all of Kansas in how we're going to grow our state. I want to hear from people and work with them."

Education

As the 10th governor to address issues of K-12 education in Kansas, Colyer hopes to put an end to the never-ending battle.

"We're going to put more money into the K-12 education system, but I also expect to get some results. For example, an 85 percent high school graduation rate is unacceptable. I think what an improvement it would be for our state if we could get that to 95 percent. It would change everything, our social service needs and it would give people an opportunity to grow in our state," Colyer added. "It gives businesses better workers.”

Budgeting and taxes

Colyer said the state’s financial numbers and revenue is doing better than he expected.

"We're about $250 million ahead. Part of that is due to the federal tax changes. People have started paying their taxes early and what that means is we will probably have decreased revenues in the next three or four months. But it gives us a good cushion, so I think we'll have budget stability to work with," Colyer explained.

Goals

Colyer has many goals in mind for Kansas and its future, but with the unemployment rate being 3.4 percent, growing Kansas is in the forefront of his mind.

"The first goal is growing Kansas, it's about jobs. We've got some challenges there and different communities have different ones. We need to move the whole skill set of the entire state up. That means better workforce training, and that's how we get companies to come here. I've been recruiting companies to come here," he noted. 

Changes

As the new governor, Colyer said he is planning on running the government more like a business.

"I'm reconstructing it so it works more like a business so we can get better management of it and in more effective programs. It takes a while for that to go through the system, but we're changing things and this really reflects of how I like to run a government," Colyer said.

There has been a significant change in the transformation of the government and 22 major staff changes have been made.

What’s next

While many see Kansas constantly in a state of downfall and hardships, Colyer wants to uplift the spirits of Kansans.

"Uplifting the spirit and service of Kansas is something we need to highlight.

My overall goal is I want Kansas to be the place where my daughters see their future. You can be an adventurous Kansan, travel and work all over the world, but this is home and this is where your opportunity really is. I think if we play our cards smart but straight over the next ten years, we can get in a pretty good spot," Colyer said.

While there are many topics to be dealt with, Colyer said you can expect him to be running for governor next year and to continue to assist Kansans.

"Absolutely I'm running for governor. Here's the thing, I think Kansans are actually going to have the chance to meet Jeff Colyer and see what's happening — I welcome that opportunity. It's not just going to be idle words, I'm going to be listening and working with folks to get things done — that's just who I am," he said.

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.