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Archive for Friday, July 30, 2010

Incumbent faces rare primary challenge

July 30, 2010

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Two veteran officeholders are vying for the Democratic nomination to become Kansas’ secretary of state.

Democratic candidates

Chris Biggs

Age: 51

Residence: Junction City.

He has lived in Kansas his entire life.

Chris Steineger

Age: 48

Residence: Kansas City, Kan.

He has lived in Kansas City, Kan., his entire life.

One is the incumbent, Chris Biggs, who was appointed to the job in March by Gov. Mark Parkinson after longtime Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a Republican, left office for a private sector job.

Prior to his appointment, Biggs had served as Kansas securities commissioner for seven years and before that was Geary County prosecutor.

The other candidate is Chris Steineger, a state senator for the past 13 years from Kansas City.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face in the Nov. 2 general election the winner of a three-person race in the Republican Party primary, plus Libertarian Phillip Horatio Lucas and the Reform Party’s Derek Langseth.

Both Democratic candidates downplay their political connections, saying the secretary of state’s office, which handles elections and business registrations, needs to be run in a nonpartisan manner.

Steineger points to his past challenges of Democratic leadership as examples of his independence. In the past legislative session, he was the only Democratic state senator to vote against the state sales tax increase.

But some Democrats have criticized Steineger, noting that the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission fined Steineger $5,000 in May for a campaign finance law violation.

The commission ruled that Steineger used his Senate campaign fund to pay for polls used to test the waters for a potential statewide campaign. But Kansas campaign finance laws prohibit the use of funds contributed for the purpose of one race to be used for another.

Steineger said the violation was unintentional.

“I made that mistake myself,” Steineger said during a hearing on his case. “I accept responsibility for the mistake.”

But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka hasn’t been forgiving.

“Kansans deserve a secretary of state who understands the law, follows the law, and is committed to enforcing the law,” Hensley said.

Steineger dismissed Hensley’s criticism, saying the two have been at odds over issues and efforts by Steineger to reach out to non-Democrats.

Both candidates have been asked about the extent of voter fraud in Kansas, and both have dismissed it as not a major problem when compared with voter apathy.

“Voter fraud is not a major problem in Kansas, although there are isolated cases,” Biggs said. “In fact, these cases are so few and far between that there are no standard procedures in place to deal with them when they arise. I have a background in law enforcement, having been a prosecutor for over 20 years, and am one of the few people in the state to have actually prosecuted a voter fraud case. As secretary of state, I will be diligent in ensuring the integrity of elections.”

Steineger has said he wants to make voting easier by moving polling places to locations where people go to for other reasons, such as banks and grocery stores.

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