When the voters of Kansas elect a state official, they are hiring that person to do a job. State offices are important jobs that Kansans assume will get the full attention of the people they elect.
Surprisingly, not every elected official in Kansas shares that assumption. Kris Kobach, who will take office next week as Kansas secretary of state, has said he will work at least 40 hours a week in his state job but he also plans to continue doing outside legal work related to immigration law during his “spare time.”
Kobach’s plan has raised concerns among a number of Kansans, including Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who will push for legislation that reminds state officeholders of the responsibilities of their jobs. The legislation would prohibit not only holders of statewide elective office but also some appointed cabinet secretaries and department heads from pursuing significant outside jobs while they are in office.
Kobach has promised to fight the proposal, saying it is “a brazen attempt to stop me from making the progress and reforms I’ve made in the illegal immigration area.” Perhaps so, but that isn’t the job the voters of Kansas hired Kobach to do. They hired him to be the secretary of state.
Having state officials pursuing second careers while in office raises serious concerns. First, in everything they do, state officials represent the state of Kansas. They don’t punch a time clock after which they can pursue any interest they have regardless of how it might reflect on the state. Even if everyone in Kansas agreed with Kobach’s activities concerning illegal immigration, there certainly is a long list of other jobs or professions that Kansans wouldn’t want their state officials pursuing while in office.
Another key issue is the money. Presumably, Kobach will be paid for the legal services he provides on his second job. Perhaps that money will have no influence on his activities as secretary of state, but allowing state officials to hold significant outside jobs sets a dangerous precedent. Paying a state official to do another job while in office would be a handy way for an outside group or corporation to try to exert influence over state policy. At the very least, that employment would cast doubt on the official’s ethics and raise questions about possible conflicts of interest.
It’s good that Kobach has been forthright about his plans so that the state has an opportunity to establish some parameters for state officeholders that probably should have been set long ago. It is surprising that an elected state official would view his or her job as anything less than a 24-7 commitment to the people of Kansas, but apparently there is a need to clarify that point.