From illegal immigration to wild
swine, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s keen sense for a
fight has vaulted him from the grasslands to the national stage.
Kobach is a “BloodBrother & on the frontlines taking on
the America hating ObamaGang at every turn,” rock singer Ted Nugent wrote on Facebook this year, after Kobach, a 48-year-old
Republican, lobbied the Texas legislature for the right to shoot
feral hogs from helicopters.
Now the Yale-educated lawyer, who helped draft laws
designed to rid Arizona and Alabama of undocumented immigrants
and challenged the Obama administration’s deferral of
deportations, is facing the same opposition as Kansas Governor
Sam Brownback. Moderate Republicans are in revolt over the
financial fallout from tax cuts and Kobach, to some members of
his own party, has come to symbolize partisan overreach.
Last week, Kobach lost a bid to keep a Democratic U.S.
Senate candidate on the November ballot, potentially
complicating the race for the Republican incumbent.
“He’s left a trail of destruction across the whole country
from his endeavors,” said Stephen Morris, a farmer who a former
Republican Senate president. “And he’s pushed some very strict
voting laws and insisted we have a voting-fraud problem, which
is not true.”
Kobach, a Tea Party supporter, trailed his Democratic
opponent in an early September poll. Although Kansas is reliably
Republican, it has a history of moderation and the Brownback and
Kobach races have implications beyond state borders.
“Nationally, the Tea Party is no longer in the ascendancy,
and if either one of these guys gets beat in Kansas it’s going
to be even more damaging to Tea Party insurgents and the more
ultra-conservatives in the Republican Party,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at
Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
The most recent controversy came to a head Sept. 18 when
the Kansas Supreme Court overturned Kobach’s refusal of
candidate Chad Taylor’s request to remove his name from the
November ballot. The ruling could benefit independent Greg Orman
in his race against Republican Pat Roberts and, in turn, affect
the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
Kobach’s Sept. 3 decision had preserved a three-way
contest, to the potential benefit of Roberts. Kobach is an
honorary campaign committee member of the Republican senator’s
re-election even as he serves as the state’s chief elections
Kobach downplayed the significance of his campaign role,
saying in an interview that he was one of a “cast of
thousands” holding that position and that if he’d known ahead
of time there would be a controversy he wouldn’t have accepted
He dismissed critics, calling Morris “one of the most
liberal members to serve in the Kansas Senate” and “not a
The last Democrat sent to the U.S. Senate by Kansas voters
was George McGill, who served from 1930 to 1939; the last nod to
a Democratic presidential candidate was 50 years ago, when
voters chose Lyndon Johnson.
In July, more than 100 Republicans endorsed Democrat Paul Davis over Brownback, who pushed for the tax cuts that led to
state credit-rating downgrades.
As polls show the governor’s race a toss-up, a KSN
News/Survey USA survey released Sept. 8 showed Kobach with 43
percent and his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf, a former
Republican state senator, with 46 percent. The poll of 825
adults was conducted from Sept. 4 to Sept. 7 and has a margin of
error of 4.2 percentage points.
“He’s been getting criticism for using his office for
partisan gain,” said Neal Allen, an assistant professor of
political science at Wichita State University. “And he gets a
good bit of criticism for not focusing on his secretary of state
The son of a Buick dealer in Topeka, Kobach earned degrees
from elite universities — Harvard, Oxford and Yale. He joined
the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft
in 2001, overseeing immigration enforcement after the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. That eventually led to his drafting
immigration restrictions for Arizona.
It was the strictest such statute in the country in 2010,
requiring immigrants to have registration documents in their
possession at all times. It also made state law enforcement
officers determine an individual’s immigration status during
routine stops or arrests.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2012 that Arizona
couldn’t undercut federal law, striking down three provisions,
although leaving in place the requirement that police check the
immigration status of people they suspect are in the country
After a failed congressional bid in 2004 Kobach became
chairman of the Kansas Republican Party in 2007. He was elected
secretary of state in 2010, the same year as Brownback, and
successfully pushed a law the next year requiring proof of
citizenship to vote. The law is being challenged in federal
“The feeling among Kansans now is that they’re tired of
the ultra-conservative brand of politics in the state,” said
Nathaniel Birkhead, an assistant professor of political science
at Kansas State University in Manhattan. “This is really voters
saying we asked for it, we got it and we don’t like it.”
While Kansas has a history of political turmoil reaching
back to bloody battles over slavery in the mid-19th century, its
modern-day Republicanism is defined by former U.S. Senators Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum — conservative with a small c.
“Until right now it’s been a sane Republican state,” said
John Carlin, a Democrat who served as governor from 1979 to
“I must admit that Democrats historically have won when
Republicans screwed up,” Carlin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever
seen anything like this.”
Kobach said only the people can judge his record.
“Some on the radical left don’t like those changes,” he
said. “We’ll see what the voters think in a month-and-a-half.”
To contact the reporter on this story:
Tim Jones in Chicago at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Stephen Merelman at
Source Article from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-22/kansan-kobach-a-lightning-rod-from-immigration-to-voter-id-laws.html
Kansan Kobach a Lightning Rod From Immigration to Voter ID Laws
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