Topeka State officials on Tuesday rejected a challenge by a gay rights group that opposed the candidacy of a legislator who said she moved to a church to establish residency in a House district.
The State Objection Board, made up of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, all Republicans, also rejected the appeal of a Democratic state House candidate whose filing paperwork was lost.
The Objection Board held a marathon session to decide 10 ballot disputes in the wake of court-ordered redistricting on June 7 that shook the Kansas political landscape, sending dozens of candidates scurrying to file for office by the June 11 deadline.
At least six incumbent legislators who had been drawn out of their districts moved to run in the Aug. 7 primaries.
One of those was Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson. She had represented the 102nd District for two decades, but the new map put her house in the 104th District.
So, she and her husband, Ron, moved to a vacant church in the 102nd that they had bought in 2003. She said they are renovating it to live there.
But Thomas Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, filed a challenge, alleging that the vacant church was not a residence under city of Hutchinson ordinances, and therefore Pauls could not claim it as her legal residence.
“This is not a home. This is a church,” said Witt, who has often criticized Pauls for her opposition to gay rights. The pews are still in the church, Witt noted.
He said Pauls was “carpetbagging,” and he told the board that if they allow it, any time a person throws a sleeping bag on the floor of a gasoline station, tavern or a vacant lot, they could claim that as their residence for candidacy purposes.
Pauls said she is in the process of moving from her other home into the church and had spent four or five nights at the church since June 11.
“It has always been our intention to move into the church,” she said.
The board members voted, 3-0, for Pauls and against Witt’s challenge.
Kobach said Pauls’ intent was clear when she changed her voter registration to the church address. Schmidt said no one from the city of Hutchinson had verified if, in fact, Pauls was living in the church illegally. Colyer said he didn’t have a problem with what Pauls had done.
The board also voted against a challenge from Democrat Larry Meeker, who decided to run in House District 17 but was declared invalid by the Secretary of State’s office.
On June 11, Meeker, former mayor of Lake Quivira, and a number of other Democrats signed their declarations of candidacies at the Johnson County Courthouse, and then Tyler Longpine, who works for House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, took the forms to Topeka to file the paperwork and pay the fees at the Secretary of State’s office just moments before the deadline.
The final hours of filing were chaotic, and somehow Meeker’s paperwork was lost and his candidacy wasn’t recorded.
Longpine swore he handed in Meeker’s required papers, but Kobach’s employees said they checked numerous times and couldn’t find them.
“This is the case of the missing form,” Kobach said.
Schmidt said the court-ordered redistricting and short period before the filing deadline led to problems. “This is a confused circumstance at the time of filing,” he said.
But board members indicated they were uncomfortable allowing a person on the ballot without a filing document or fee. Kobach abstained from the vote, but Schmidt and Colyer voted against Meeker.
Meeker said he is exploring his options. He could run a write-in campaign during the primary to get the Democratic nomination, or he could run as an independent in the November election.
Earlier, the Objection Board refused to reconsider a decision by Kobach to reassign more than 80 legislative candidates to the correct districts after the legislative boundaries were redrawn by the court.