Students visit with Kansas AG Kobach, one of several speakers teacher has invited from across the political spectrum

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach speaks to Bishop Seabury Academy students on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

While Bishop Seabury students in Sonja Czarnecki’s Global Studies class were recently learning about the United States’ economic ties with China, they got to hear from a Kansas politician who has some very pointed opinions on the subject — and with whom many of them might not agree: Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach.

The potential clash of strongly held views was by design, as Czarnecki has made it a point to expose her students to opportunities for broader conversations about current events.

During Kobach’s visit last week, students asked Kobach not only about China but also about other issues in the news, such as the criminal indictments of former President Donald Trump, whom Kobach has avidly supported.

Kobach, a former law professor, secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate and now AG, is one of several guests that Czarnecki has lined up for classroom visits. Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who served in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, spoke with the class in November, and University of Kansas political science professor John Kennedy is scheduled to address the class this week to discuss American foreign policy related to Taiwan.

“I’ve had a lot of responses from elected officials who represent a more liberal and Democratic point of view,” Czarnecki said, adding that in addition to Sebelius’ visit, Lawrence City Commission candidates dropped by last fall for a classroom visit, as well as state Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence. Czarnecki said that while she’s received a “really robust response” from Democrats, it has been more difficult to line up Republican politicians as guest speakers.

Kobach, however, one of the more polarizing figures on the Kansas political scene, seemed happy to oblige.

With students gathered around, Kobach shared his opinion that the Chinese government is attempting to infiltrate the U.S. through nefarious means, including land acquisition. Specifically, he pointed to Cnano Technology USA, a Chinese-backed manufacturing company that plans to put a $95 million plant in nearby Johnson County that would produce liquid conductive paste.

Kobach has proposed legislation that would prohibit foreign citizens and corporations from acquiring land in Kansas in excess of 3 acres.

“We knew he had introduced this bill, so it all worked out perfectly,” Czarnecki said. “We’ve been discussing China’s role as a global superpower, including its economic ties to Kansas.”

Kobach said that the bill he urged last year would have set in motion a review process by a recently created state land commission that could have potentially killed Cnano’s plans. He additionally criticized the Johnson County Commission’s approval of a 10-year 75% property tax abatement for Cnano’s facility, which is expected to employ more than 100 people.

“So if that (state law) would have been in place, it could have potentially stopped Johnson County from selling this facility to Cnano — and would have allowed the state to review it,” Kobach said. “Sometimes a county will be driven by economic growth. They’ll just want the jobs and tax revenue and don’t care about the bigger consequences.”

Kobach told students that there is “growing concern, especially in the Midwest” that China or its surrogates, citizens, or corporations have been acquiring land on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, possibly for the purpose of spying.

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Students enrolled in Global Studies at Bishop Seabury Academy had a number of question for Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

One student asked who controlled the land review commission. Kobach said that multiple stakeholders, including his office and Gov. Laura Kelly, select the five-member commission. In a follow-up question, a student asked if the commission had sufficient resources to investigate foreign corporations operating on U.S. soil, to which Kobach expressed doubt.

“Frankly, I don’t think any number of people is enough,” Kobach said.

One student asked Kobach if his bill would “deter the type of industry we want” in Kansas and why any company “would pick a state that has a policy like this.” Countering those concerns, Kobach cited the multibillion-dollar Panasonic battery plant being built in De Soto.

“It’s a high-tech plant and owned by a nation that we consider a friendly country,” he said of the Japanese-owned company. Kobach said he imagined that Panasonic would pass a land committee review “in a snap.”

“Because it’s good for Kansas and we would love to have that business here,” he said. “That’s why you have the commission. They could greenlight ones like Panasonic and put the brakes on those that look like they pose greater security risks.”

Another student asked Kobach if the bill specifically targets Chinese nationals.

“China is a major concern, but there are others as well,” Kobach said, naming Mexican drug cartels. “Cartels have been purchasing a lot of land in Texas and Oklahoma. They can use that land for lots of reasons, including safe houses and smuggling drugs, human (trafficking). And in Oklahoma, there is speculation the cartel could use the land for growing marijuana.”

Kobach also told students that Chinese-owned companies are beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.

“There is this law in China, that if you own a company and are based in China, then the Chinese Communist Party has access to everything you know,” he said. “Your company, personnel — everything. So you have to serve the CCP.”

photo by: Journal-World

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach reads from a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution during a class visit at Bishop Seabury Academy on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

Kobach fielded a student’s question regarding his opinion of Trump’s insurrection-related charges. Trump was indicted by the Justice Department last year for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and witnessing tampering. Kobach vigorously defended Trump regarding his role in allegedly attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He also said that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in Trump’s favor and bar states from excluding him from their ballots.

“The Constitution doesn’t have a presidential immunity clause, but it does say that members of Congress cannot be prosecuted for things they say or do when in session,” Kobach said. “The idea is that you want to give them the ability to be members of Congress and do the things they need to do without fear of prosecution.”

Kobach said that the same rationale should apply not just in the civil cases against Trump, but also in the criminal cases.

“The Trump legal team is basically saying that the same reasoning applies in the criminal context,” Kobach said.

Other topics that Kobach and the students discussed included organized retail crime, election security and immigration.

Czarnecki said she was pleased with the tenor of the discussion, specifically with the legislation component, because it “wasn’t totally polarized or a topic that the students had formed a strong opinion about in a partisan way.”

She added: “I thought their questions were awesome. And I’m glad (Kobach) spent the most time talking about that bill, because it does seem like it could have a lot of bipartisan support. Our politics are so polarized, so it’s important to talk about topics that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.”

photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach talks with Bishop Seabury Academy students after a visit to the Global Studies class Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.


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