Republican strategist says he is the legitimate chair of Kansas’ No Labels party; he says national party failed to complete necessary paperwork to retain control

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

The Kansas Statehouse is pictured in Topeka on Dec. 20, 2023, at SW 8th and SW Van Buren Streets.

A Republican strategist who filed paperwork nominating a Lawrence lawmaker as a candidate of the No Labels party against her will has acknowledged that the party’s nominating convention was hardly a convention at all.

Instead, Kris Van Meteren said in an email on Friday that he simply “elected myself as Chairman,” at a convention that he called himself, and then proceeded to nominate two candidates for the Kansas Senate on his own accord — Lawrence lawmaker and current Democratic incumbent Marci Francisco for Senate District No. 2, and Echo Van Meteren, his wife, who is a Republican candidate for Kansas Senate District No. 5.

Francisco has said she never sought nor gave permission for anyone to declare her the nominee of the No Labels party. Francisco is an active candidate in the Democratic primary for Senate District No. 2. She has said Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office should investigate the matter to determine if Van Meteren’s actions were an illegal attempt to confuse voters or otherwise inappropriately influence the election. On Thursday, the Kansas Secretary of State’s office confirmed to the Journal-World that it is in communication with the Attorney General’s office about a possible election crime involving the No Labels nominations.

Van Meteren’s email, which was sent to the Journal-World, indicates that he was the only person who voted in the No Labels convention that he called, although Van Meteren hasn’t responded to an email from the Journal-World asking him to confirm that detail.

And Van Meteren — owner of a Johnson County firm that provides campaign materials to Republicans and other conservatives –contends everything he did was legal. He said an opportunity for him to become the chair of the No Labels Kansas party became available because past organizers of the party failed to complete the final steps to make the party an official political party in Kansas.

“As background on No Labels Kansas, you may recall that a sufficient number of petitions were circulated and submitted to qualify the movement as a political party in Kansas,” Van Meteren wrote in the email. “But, unable to muster a Presidential ticket to their liking, petition circulators dropped the ball and never bothered to pick it up again.”

Instead, Van Meteren said he picked up the ball and ran with it. Van Meteren said he filed articles of incorporation, registered with the Internal Revenue Service and attended to other such details to make the party legal in Kansas. At that point, he contends, he was within his legal rights to call a convention and elect himself the party’s chairman, which then put him in a position to legally choose nominees for the No Labels ticket.

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab disagreed. He invalidated the two nominations put forward by Van Meteren because he said the Secretary of State’s office had determined that Kansas resident Glenda Reynolds is the actual party chair of No Labels Kansas.

The No Labels party, however, has said next to nothing about the matter. A spokesperson with the national No Labels party has not returned a phone message seeking comment for the last two days, and Reynolds has not returned multiple voice messages.

The Secretary of State’s office has not released detailed information about how it determined that Reynolds was the legitimate party chair for No Labels. Van Meteren criticized Schwab and his decisions on the matter. He refers to Schwab as part of the “Topeka fever swamp,” and he said that the Secretary of State has “simply set aside state law,” because some people “don’t like the political implications of my filings.”

Van Meteren said he changed his party affiliation to No Labels. He did not address whether he and his company — The Singularis Group in Olathe — will continue to focus on providing political strategy and materials to Republicans. Some of the state’s most prominent Republicans, including Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Tracey Mann, are listed as past clients.

While Friday’s email was the most detailed explanation Van Meteren has given yet, he doesn’t explain why he chose to nominate Francisco for a party spot that she never sought, but he did confirm that Francisco did not have any “foreknowledge or participation” in his decision to nominate her for the No Labels ticket. For that matter, he said his wife didn’t know of his plan to nominate her either.

Van Meteren did not provide an explanation why he chose to nominate Francisco. However, he contends it is legal for a party to choose an individual as its nominee, even if that person has not consented to serve as the nominee. The Secretary of State’s office is uncertain of that point. A spokesperson for the office said the law was unclear on that point.

Van Meteren said he does like the idea of using the No Labels party as a holding area for candidates who may lose a primary election, but still want to run in the general election. He contends that is what his filings for Francisco and Echo Van Meteren would have allowed, if either of them lost their primary election. He contends in that case, their names would continue to show up on the general election ballot, due to their status as No Labels nominees. That point of law also is unclear, the Secretary of State’s office has said.

Van Meteren, though, said such a system where candidates get a second chance at an election would be a benefit to voters.

“It provides voters with a fuller menu of choices, versus potentially having to choose between two candidates selected by the fever swamp and plunked down before the voters as their only options,” Van Meteren said via email.

What is clear is that Francisco and her opponent in the Democratic primary — Rep. Christina Haswood — have not appreciated Van Meteren’s actions. Both have said state legislators need to look at what laws are on the books regarding political parties and the nominees, and make changes as needed to ensure a similar situation doesn’t arise in the future.

Both also have urged Kobach — who has gained a national reputation as a prosecutor of election law violations — to review the case for possible criminal prosecution.

Van Meteren said he would welcome a review by Kobach. Van Meteren said he currently is trying to get a state legislator to ask for a legal opinion from Kobach on several issues regarding political parties and their nomination processes.

On Friday afternoon, State Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Leavenworth Democrat, did seek a legal opinion from Kobach on the issue of cross-party nomination, which would allow a single candidate to seek the nomination of multiple political parties. Pittman is the incumbent in the Senate district that Echo Van Meteren is seeking.

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