Kobach to lead Kansas GOP

? Conservatives proved again Saturday that they control the state’s Republican Party, picking one of their own as chairman after he promised vigorous leadership and compared one prominent defector to a prostitute.

The selection of Kris Kobach, of Kansas City, Kan., is likely to upset GOP moderates because of his opposition to abortion and conservative positions on issues such as immigration. Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was the Republican nominee in the 3rd Congressional District in 2004.

The GOP’s 177-member state committee made the decision, and some said they were impressed with Kobach’s energy. He promised to pursue dozens of initiatives to build the party and work with all factions.

His aggressiveness was evident in remarks he directed at Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who served as GOP chairman in 1999-2003, then switched parties late in 2005 to become Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ running mate in her successful re-election campaign. Kobach said a party leader should not “prostitute himself” for power.

“A party leader should never prostitute himself or his views merely in the quest for personal power,” Kobach said after his election. “And I stand by that statement.”

Parkinson, a former state senator, has said repeatedly that social conservatives’ growing dominance within the GOP ultimately made him more comfortable with Democrats. Told of Kobach’s comment, Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said, “It’s statements like that, that have led Mark Parkinson to leave.”

Kobach prevailed in a 109-65 vote on the second ballot, over state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, of Fowler, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members. The race had a third candidate, Wichita businessman Mark Pompeo, but his name was dropped after the first ballot, where Kobach had 65 votes; Huelskamp, 56, and Pompeo, 55.

The new chairman will replace Tim Shallenburger, a former state treasurer and Kansas House speaker who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Sebelius. Shallenburger stepped aside after one two-year term.

The GOP state committee meeting was part of Republicans’ annual Kansas Day convention, which brings hundreds of activists to Topeka. Reflecting Republicans’ traditional dominance of Kansas politics, it’s scheduled for the weekend closest to the Jan. 29 anniversary of the state’s admission to the Union in 1861.

But many Republicans are feeling battered by the 2006 elections. Sebelius easily won a second term, and Democrat Paul Morrison, another high-profile party switcher, unseated conservative favorite Phill Kline in the attorney general’s race.

Democrat Nancy Boyda unseated five-term GOP Rep. Jim Ryun in the 2nd Congressional District. Nationally, Republicans lost their congressional majorities.

Money also has been an issue. While the state GOP raised $1.2 million in 2005 and 2006 for their state and federal activities, the Democratic Party raised 3 1/2 times that, about $4 million.

Kobach told committee members the party needed “dramatic reforms” and promised to run the party like “a campaign that is always going and never stops.”

He has degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford universities and worked two years in the U.S. Justice Department, listing former Attorney General John Ashcroft as a mentor.

While all three candidates were considered conservatives, Pompeo was the least objectionable to abortion rights supporters and other moderates.

“Mike Pompeo was the only candidate who had a chance at actually bringing this party together under his leadership at the state level,” said Andy Wollen, chairman of the moderate Kansas Traditional Republican Majority.

In 2004, Kobach’s bid for Congress was hampered by moderates’ dissatisfaction with him. Democratic incumbent Dennis Moore received 55 percent of the vote, his best showing up to that point.

“Kobach is a very smart guy, a very hard worker,” Wollen said. “But he’s so smart that he’s convinced that he’s so right, that he’s unwilling to listen to other people whose perspectives differ from his and he ends up scaring them off.”

Kobach told reporters after his election that there’s room in the GOP for people who have different views on various issues and suggested such differences have been exaggerated.

“Many Republicans are in accordance with the platform on 90 percent of the issues but might differ with the platform on one or two or three,” Kobach said. “That’s fine. That does not mean that they are not welcome in our party.”

But Kobach also made it clear that county caucuses will determine what the GOP includes in its platform – and anti-abortion language will remain if those caucuses want it. He said if abortion rights supporters don’t like the prospect, “Convince your fellow Republicans at the caucus level to adopt your point of view.”

Kobach also defended his comments about Parkinson, saying the lieutenant governor’s defection shows that either Parkinson wasn’t a diligent GOP leader or that his principles are “so fluid that they can change with any given season.”

Corcoran replied, speaking of Parkinson, “He has felt more comfortable with the direction the Democratic Party is heading.”

But former Kansas House Speaker Doug Mays, a Topeka Republican, endorsed Kobach’s remarks, saying they were part of a “wonderful speech” showing Kobach’s energy and enthusiasm.

“It got the crowed stirred up, and sometimes that’s what you want to do with the speech,” Mays said.

Kris Kobach

  • Age: 40. Born March 26, 1966.
  • Hometown: Kansas City, Kan.
  • Party: Republican; He is the GOP’s Kansas chairman.
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in government, Harvard University, 1988; master’s degree in political science, Oxford University, England, 1990; doctorate in political science, Oxford, 1992; law degree, Yale University, 1995.
  • Career: Judicial clerk, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 1995-96; constitutional law professor, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1996-present; White House fellow, U.S. Attorney General’s office, 2001-02; counsel to the U.S. attorney general, 2002-03; member, Overland Park City Council, 1999-2001; named GOP’s state chairman Saturday.
  • Personal: He and his wife, Heather, have two young daughters.