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Noonletter, Oct. 26, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Secretary of Conflict?

It’s a basic conflict baked into most state constitutions: The person who oversees elections also runs for election. So who’s making sure that person, someone with an obvious stake in the outcome of voting, doesn’t somehow fudge the outcome?

Kansas Democrats held a news conference on Thursday insisting that this secretary of state, Kris Kobach, needs to step away from that part of his job. He’s the Republican running for governor and also a guy held in contempt by a federal judge for not responding properly to court orders regarding the state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements.

In his oh-so-close primary race with incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kobach recused himself (and put his top deputy in charge) when the count dragged on for a week. Even that, he said, wasn’t needed because it’s the state’s counties that actually conduct the voting and send the state their results. (But in the state’s biggest counties, the secretary of state picks the election officials, somewhat undercutting that argument.)

A spokesperson for Kobach said he’s constitutionally obligated to oversee elections, even his own.

Indeed, Emporia State University political scientist Michael Smith told Stephen Koranda it’s not so much an issue about Kobach, but how the Kansas Constitution set up the office.

“If that person’s running for re-election,” Smith said, “then you have that conflict of interest kind of built into the state Constitution.”

Democrats contend Kobach needs to turn over his election oversight, and not to his lieutenant, but to another employee in the secretary of state’s office they see as a career public servant. They don’t offer an explanation about how that eliminates what they see as a conflict of interest — they happen to put faith in Bryan Caskey, but would they trust somebody else in the same job? —  or some new structure that would separate elections from the elected.

The video you can’t watch

In the same case that landed Kobach a fine and contempt of court order, he gave a deposition. Recorded on video.

The full transcript of that interview has been made public and has revealed Kobach to fumble at times with the law (he’s a former law professor) and with his memory.

Several news organizations, including this one, requested a release of the video. And no doubt, Kobach’s political opponents would have loved to use bits of it in attack ads. Alas, the same federal district judge, who called out Kobach in court for his seeming ignorance of litigation procedure and who ruled against him in that case, sided with him and is keeping the video locked up.

Run-on sentences

Last year, the Kansas Sentencing Commission told the Legislature to rewrite the laws that require a broad range of people to check in with criminal registries well after they’ve served time in prison or on parole.

Specifically, it said folks convicted of drug crimes shouldn’t be on the list. Putting them on there has led to more violations for failing to check in or pay fees, and that’s tossed people back behind bars and worsened prison overcrowding.

Since the commission’s recommendations last year, Celia Llopis-Jepsen has written extensively about the issue. Kansas is aggressive in forcing people to comply with criminal registries and tackles the issue quite like no other.

The sentencing panel — prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and others — on Thursday said not only should Kansas take drug crimes out of its criminal registries, but that failure to pay registration fees should be a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Again, it’s an attempt to bring down the state’s prison population.


The candidates for governor met in another debate on Thursday night, this time playing to a western Kansas audience in Garden City.

Bob Davis of High Plains Public Radio noted some of the points that came up when combat faced off with Democrat Laura Kelly, independents Greg Orman and Rick Kloos and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell.

Here’s some of what Davis tweeted:

Kelly says she “is the only thing standing between Kris Kobach and the governor’s office.” #ksleg #KSGovDebate
Orman says “reject the fear that the major parties are selling you”#ksleg #KSGovDebate
Kobach says Kelly ”isn’t running against me, she’s running against Sam Brownback.” He then criticizes Brownback and compares Kelly to the former governor #ksleg#KSGovDebate
On road spending, Kobach mentions “robbing” of Bank of Kansas DOT. Kelly and Orman also hit on same theme. #ksleg #KSGovDebate
Q: Will you support creation of four-year college in Southwest Kansas? All candidates were reluctant to fully embrace that idea. Most mentioned the expansion of technical training. Kelly came closest, mentioning the possibility of a campus extension from Ft. Hays St. #ksleg #KSGovDebate
On immigration question: Kelly says country has “an immigration problem.” She calls on Congress to make fixes. Kobach emphasizes “legal” immigrants over those in the country illegally. He cites “caravan” coming toward southern US border #ksleg#KSGovDebate
Q: Would you support Medicaid expansion: Only Kobach was a no, saying it will lead to “back-breaking” tax increase. He calls for work requirements and drug testing for existing Medicaid program #ksleg #KSGovDebate
On education spending, Kobach says the right question isn’t amount, it’s where it’s being spent. Kelly disputes Kobach claim on misspent school funds #ksleg #KSGovDebate
Kelly takes on Kobach, saying “I want to know … how we keep the economy growing when we defund the things that make it grow”#ksleg #KSGovDebate
Kobach promotes having an economic environment that doesn’t drive residents away. The solution is lower taxes, he says#ksleg#KSGovDebate
Kris Kobach calls Louisiana an "economic basket case." #ksleg #KSGovDebate
Do you support legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use? All candidates except for Kobach were a yes on medical. Kelly and Kobach were no on recreational legalization #ksleg #KSGovDebate
Rick Kloos calls himself a “frustrated Republican” who is now an independent#ksleg #KSGovDebate
Jeff Caldwell closes with a call to “the right to live your life as you live without harming anyone else”#ksleg#KSGovDebate
Laura Kelly says it’s time for Kansas to “go in a new direction”#ksleg #KSGovDebate
Greg Orman begins by promoting his business experience. He singles out Laura Kelly and Kris Kobach for criticism#ksleg #KSGovDebate
Kris Kobach says “Kansas doesn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem.”#ksleg #KSGovDebate

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.


As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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