Trump to nominate Sam Brownback as religious freedom ambassador

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, center, joins other state governors on a panel during the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Five years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback made Kansas an economic laboratory for the nation by aggressively cutting taxes. He’s expected to leave office with his Kansas reputation in tatters and his home state an example of trickle-down economics that didn’t work.

The White House on Wednesday (July 26) announced that President Donald Trump plans to nominate 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.

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

“Sam has always been called to fight for those of all faiths, and I am glad he has been given an opportunity to answer this call,” said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a fellow Republican.

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

Brownback, 60, served in the U.S. Senate before his election as governor in 2010 and was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, and visited Congo and Rwanda to decry humanitarian crises and call for better coordination in foreign aid programs.

But Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, decried Brownback’s nomination because of his conservative views on issues such as same-sex marriage.

“He has caused enough damage here in Kansas,” Witt said in a statement. “We do not wish him upon the world.”

Brownback also would leave a Kansas legacy of far tougher restrictions on abortion and fewer limits on gun owners than when he won the first of his two terms in 2010.

He rejected expanding the Medicaid health program for the poor in line with former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law even as several other Republican governors went ahead.

But Brownback will be most 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, 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.”

Trump carried Kansas easily in 2016, but voters turned on 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 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. Brownback vetoed their bill, and they overrode his action.

Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold said Brownback will be remembered as a governor who advanced conservative ideas.

As for his tax cuts, Arnold said, “I guess we’ll never really know what the long-term impact” would have been.

The reversal of Brownback’s tax cuts was a far cry from the promise of his first term.
He won the governor’s office in 2010 as a U.S. senator on a wave of voter frustration in ruby red Kansas with Obama and other Democrats in Washington, aided by the rise of the tea party movement. Brownback won 63 percent of the vote and Republicans swept all statewide and congressional races on the ballot.

Brownback grew up on a family farm in eastern Kansas, trained as lawyer and was the state’s agriculture secretary from 1986 to 1993, taking a year off to serve as a White House fellow. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1994, part of the so-called Republican revolution that gave the GOP control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Two years later, he won election to the Senate, capturing the seat held by Bob Dole, who’d resigned to run for president. Brownback won a full six-year term in 1998 and another in 2004.

Brownback has long been a favorite of Christian conservatives for his strong stances as a U.S. senator against abortion and same-sex marriage. He also gained some attention as a vocal critic of the entertainment industry.

He started running in 2007 for the Republican presidential nomination but dropped out before primaries and caucuses began in 2008.

Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002 after having been a Methodist, and his religious devotion and commitment to helping the poor in other nations has led him in the past to break the mold of classic conservatives.

About the author

The Associated Press


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  • What a surprise – the job goes to a conservative Christian. I think the post should be filled by an agnostic.

  • So Trump is finally doing voters a favor by getting that miscreant out of state executive power. Please Senate approve him fast and get him the hell out of Kansas.

  • This guy cared about Darfur, WAY before it was cool for politicians on any side to care about Darfur.

    Excellent choice for an int’l religious freedom ambassador.

    Like the Neil Gorsuch USSC nomination, the Sam Brownback nomination will be remembered as a VERY presidential move on Trump’s part.

    Now if we could just get Trump to dial down some of those tweets…..

  • Brownback is totally unfit to take up this important post. But then Trump has his own agenda in appointing a person like Brownback. Brownback is as conservative as any Muslim cleric in Iran or Saudi Arabia. We need liberal Christians and not conservative Christians today. BTW, what is the difference between a Methodist Christian and a Catholic Christian that he should convert? His wife and children have not converted.

  • It went right off the rails. Back in the early days of the CO-OPs KS and other plains states were progressive fighting the railroads and supporting the rights of farmers & other working men & women. We can all see what it has become.

  • One can only hope he’ll give a damn about the poor he left hanging in the breeze in Kansas and those of other faiths, agnostics, and atheists. This may be the platform he’s been craving in order to start his mission of global Christian hegemony… or theocracy.

  • Brownback has shown that he has no respect for women’s rights of conscience and religious liberty, so how can he be expected to represent the US on religious liberty matters fairly? The Senate should reject his nomination. As usual, the Awful Oaf in the Offal Office is just playing games with the highest office in the land. — Edd Doerr

  • The office should be filled by someone who has demonstrated respect for religious liberty and who supports our constitutional heritage of church-state separation, regardless of his or her religious affiliation, if any. — Edd Doerr

  • Just when I think that things can’t get more bizarre, they do. Sam Brownback as religious freedom ambassador? Freaky.

  • There’s seriously no doubt among rational, professional people that Brownback has a top-drawer resume on the internat’l religious freedom front.

    Brownback DOES care about the poor, but he’s obviously not a tax-&-spend liberal Democrat. His solution was to grant 330,000 Kansas businesses a big tax break with the expectation that they would actually invest in new jobs.

    Bur those KS businessmen chose to keep the money for themselves, (and thus rip off the Kansas people and governor.) The fault is THEIRS.

  • If he TRULY cared about the poor he would not have hollowed out Medicaid by giving it to a profits first, patient last private entity. Too many vulnerable residents have fallen and are still falling through the cracks out there with no safety net.
    Brownback criminally miscalculated when he handed out pass through exemptions for businesses. The number of filings for LLC status jumped tremendously. It jumped to 300,000+. He did absolutely NOTHING to insure that the businesses hired. A play right out Bush Jr. book with his Tax Repatriation Act. Those corporations took advantage of the reduced taxes to do massive stock buy backs and still ship the jobs overseas. Bush Jr. never held them accountable.

  • “Women’s rights” don’t include any rights for the females (more than half of all babies) in the womb — they don’t have the right to become women, which used to be recognized as a basic human right.

    I’m not Catholic, but I respect Mr. Brownback’s moral uprightness.

  • Indeed. I too left a UMC church, earlier than he did, because it was becoming far too liberal, claiming to believe the Word of God but compromising in many ways which I could not stomach any more. It would bother me if he was comfortable in the UMC.

  • Brownback and Muslim clerics anywhere have absolutely nothing in common, because they don’t worship the same God and they believe completely different things. I’m sure it makes you feel superior to put Brownback and other conservatives down, but you are 100% wrong in your skewed evaluation.

  • According to science and the Bible, fetuses prior to the possibility of consciousness at 28-32 weeks of gestation are not yet “persons” and do not have rights that cancel those of pregnant women. You, Claire, can follow your own conscience, but do not interfere with the rights of conscience and religious freedom of other women.

  • Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was hired by a prominent NYC hospital to develop ultrasound so the baby in the womb could be viewed, said that a baby is a live human baby from the moment of conception — biologically speaking.
    He was an atheist at the time, but he was a doctor and knew Biology.
    In no other arena of American life is it permitted to legally kill a human being. We are so much poorer for supporting this travesty of justice.

  • In the late ’80s I deveoped an amicus curiae in a Supreme Court case abortion rights case. It was signed by 12 Nobel laureate scientists, including DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick, and 155 other distinguished scientists. The brief made the point that for a fetus to be considered a person I had to have a functioning brain to allow consciousness, and that this is not possible until some time after 28-32 weeks of gestation. Well over 99% of abortions are performed before 20 weeks. Nathanson was wrong; the scientists were right. — Edd Doerr

  • How many abortions did those scientists perform? Were they medical doctors? They did not have more knowledge than Dr. Bernard Nathanson who was deemed the cream of the crop — the very best, most knowledgeable — which is why he was chosen for the development of ultrasound.

    I tried to post a link with his statement about this, but it keeps disappearing off the page. Which is very strange, as I’ve seen links here before. ???
    Google Dr. Nathanson and “Confessions” and you’ll get the full statement.

  • 1000 scientists who are controlled by political correctness are not equal to one highly-educated doctor of science (biology) who tells the honest, unvarnished truth.

    Did you read his confessions?

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