Topeka Hot-button issues, such as illegal immigration, voter fraud and birthright citizenship have dominated the race for Kansas secretary of state — an office that administers elections and registers businesses.
Bringing up these matters is Republican candidate Kris Kobach, who has become a national figure in the debate over illegal immigration — most notably as an author of a controversial Arizona law — and wants to bring his fervor on the issue to the secretary of state’s office.
“I will position the secretary of state’s office at the front lines of defense against any and all forms of voter fraud,” Kobach said.
But the Democratic incumbent, Chris Biggs, says Kobach is pandering to unjustified fears and creating issues that don’t exist in Kansas while pursuing a radical, personal agenda.
“I am focused on serving as Kansas secretary of state. My opponent is focused on defending lawsuits in Arizona,” Biggs said.
As far as voter fraud goes, it doesn’t exist in Kansas in any significant measure, according to numerous reports. And neither illegal immigration nor birthright citizenship is under the bailiwick of the secretary of state’s office.
But that hasn’t stopped Kobach, an attorney, constitutional law professor and former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, from proposing to expand the authority of the secretary of state's office to prosecute voter fraud.
In addition, Kobach, if elected, said he will push for a law requiring a person show a photo ID at the polls to vote.
“In today's modern society, it is necessary for everyone to possess and use a photo ID. Indeed, one has to show a photo ID to cash a check, board a plane — even to buy the kind of Sudafed that works,” he said. He also will push for a requirement that people show proof of citizenship to register to vote.
Biggs opposes photo ID to vote.
He noted that federal law requires first-time voters to show ID when registering.
“This requirement has proven to be appropriate and sufficient without imposing an unnecessary obstacle on voters,” he said. “Additional regulation of this process could create obstacles to participation for 1.7 million eligible Kansas voters. To require voters to show a photo ID each time they go to the polls could have the practical effect of disenfranchising voters,” Biggs said.
Kobach has also said he will work, if asked, with Kansas legislators to craft an Arizona-like illegal immigration law. The Arizona law requires local law enforcement there to check citizenship status of people suspected of being in the country illegally, and to arrest them if they can’t produce proof that they are in the country legally. Critics say the law will target Hispanics and that immigration enforcement should be left to the federal government.
Kobach is also working with Arizona legislators to put together a bill that aims to deny citizenship to people born in the United States if their parents aren’t in the country legally. Kobach also is defending several cities and states in immigration lawsuits.
Biggs said all this activity illustrates Kobach isn’t willing to commit to serving full-time as the secretary of state but instead will be fighting lawsuits across the country, appearing on cable news programs unrelated to Kansas, and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in private legal fees while on the state payroll.
But Kobach has said he will work on these issues in his spare time.
Secretary of state race
As far as managing the secretary of state’s office, Biggs said Kobach’s history as chairman of the Kansas Republican Party in 2007-08 should be informative to voters.
A Federal Elections Commission audit criticized Kobach and former Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Christian Morgan for their financial management of the party.
The audit found that when they were in charge of the party, state and federal taxes weren’t paid, illegal contributions were accepted and questionable expenses were made. Kobach has blamed Morgan for the problems; Morgan has blamed Kobach.
Kobach ran unsuccessfully in 2004 for the 3rd U.S. House district against U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa.
Biggs was appointed secretary of state in March by Gov. Mark Parkinson when Ron Thornburgh left office to take a private sector job.
Prior to that, Biggs had served as Kansas securities commissioner since 2003. He lost a narrow race in 2002 to former attorney general Phill Kline, and had been Geary County prosecutor for 14 years.