(Updated to include response from Gov. Kelly’s campaign and her fundraising numbers as well as possible campaign staff for Colyer)
Former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer on Friday morning took the first step toward running for Kansas governor next year when he named a campaign treasurer.
Colyer named as treasurer Mary Eisenhower, former CEO of People to People International and granddaughter of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“I am thrilled Mary has joined our campaign and humbled to be associated with such a great example of principled, successful Republican leadership,” Colyer said in a statement.
“Kansas has lost over 35,000 private sector jobs since I left office. It’s time to get Kansas back to work. Kansas needs an authentic, effective conservative in the governorship.” he said.
For months, Colyer has been expected to run for governor in 2022, possibly facing primary competition against Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Wichita oilman Wink Hartman and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. also have been mentioned as possible Republican candidates.
Schmidt could not be reached for comment Friday while Ryckman said he was considering his options.
A political source said Colyer had been planning the announcement for several months.
And while the former governor did not reveal his entire campaign staff, Colyer’s team is expected to include former staffers David Kensinger, Mark Dugan and Wichita fundraiser DiAnne Graham.
Colyer served for seven years as lieutenant governor to former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, where he was the architect of privatizing the state’s Medicaid program, now known as KanCare.
He became governor in January 2018, when Brownback stepped down to become U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom in former President Donald Trump’s administratiocn.
Colyer lost a bid to keep the seat three years ago when he narrowly lost in the primary to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who went on to lose to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in the general election.
Colyer’s loss was largely blamed on former President Donald Trump’s last-minute endorsement of Kobach in the primary.
There was some belief Friday that Colyer’s anouncement could send a signal to Trump that he’s running for governor again.
Colyer’s announcement could possibly open the door for him to land an endorsement from the former president, who recently backed U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran in 2022.
Colyer has been positioning himself as the leading GOP Republican power broker in Kansas, especially after he encouraged former Treasurer Jake LaTurner to bow out of the U.S. Senate race and run against former Republican Congressman Steve Watkins.
LaTurner ended up defeating Watkins and securing a seat that could have been up for grabs if Watkins had faced Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla in the general election.
Colyer also endorsed Roger Marshall in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate and his former lieutenant governor, Tracey Mann, in the 1st Congressional District.
He even got involved in a state House race last year in Wichita where he backed state Rep. Patrick Penn in his bid to unseat former Rep. Michael Capps.
The endorsements could benefit Colyer in an upcoming campaign, a source said.
“There’s a lot of moves here that Colyer’s made right, that he’ll be able to cash in on some IOUs and that will be the difference maker between the last go-around and this time,” the source said.
“He should have endorsements from almost every major Republican person…leading up to the primary,” the source said.
Colyer never closed his campaign account from the 2018 campaign. His most recent campaign finance report filed at the first of the year showed him with about $86 on hand.
Meanwhile, Kelly has been raising money at a good clip since she was elected.
Kelly raised about $428,600 last year, down from the roughly $586,000 she raised the year before, campaign finance reports show.
However, Kelly is ahead of where Brownback and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius were at the same time in their tenure as governor.
Kelly also had almost $655,000 in the bank at the end of 2020.
The governor’s office on Friday said that Kelly was focused more on restoring the Kansas economy caused by the pandemic than she was on the 2022 election.
However, the governor’s office statement belied the message from Kelly’s campaign, which sent out a fundraising email following Colyer’s announcement.
“If Kansans wanted another four years of the Brownback-Colyer administration, Jeff Colyer would have won his primary back in 2018. But Kansans made it clear: it was time to move our state forward,” the Kelly campaign said in an email.
“We can’t afford to go back to the same disastrous policies and beliefs that sank Kansas’ economy, underfunded our schools, and attacked rural healthcare services.
“Laura is the leader we need to get us through the pandemic and continue to clean up the mess Brownback and Colyer left behind,” the campaign said.
Kansas Democrats wasted little time exploiting what might be Colyer’s biggest political liability – his connections to the Brownback administration and the tax cuts that were blamed for gutting the state budget.
“The Brownback-Colyer administration can be summed up in word – disaster,” said Vicki Hiatt, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party.
“It was a disaster for our economy, a disaster for our schools, a disaster for our roads and infrastructure and a disaster for our foster care system,” Hiatt said.
“The last thing Kansans want, or need, is a return to the disastrous leadership that brought our state to its knees.”