Kobach launches campaign for attorney general

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Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Thursday launched his eighth bid for public office, this time seeking to become the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

Kobach announced his candidacy for attorney general, making him the first candidate to officially get into the race to replace Derek Schmidt, who is running for governor.

Kobach’s announcement comes on the heels of races that he lost for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and for governor two years earlier.

“The biggest political development in the last few years has been the end of the Trump presidency and the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House,” Kobach said.

“That has changed the landscape legally and it’s changed the landscape politically,” Kobach said in an interview.

“I think the most important thing I can do is to stand in the gap and protect Kansans from the Biden administration when it acts in a manner that is unconstitutional or illegal,” Kobach said.

Kobach, known nationally for his unyielding approach on immigration and his ties to President Donald Trump, made his announcement in Wichita at the Sedgwick County Courthouse.

Kobach late Wednesday filed paperwork with the secretary of state appointing a treasurer for his attorney general’s race. Kobach made the filing shortly before 10 p.m.

He named Laura Tawater as his treasurer. Tawater, 1st District chair of the state Republican Party, came under criticism from Democrats earlier this year for attending a rally held by the president preceding the Capitol riots on Jan. 6.

Kobach would be the first candidate to kick off a race for attorney general that could include Republican state Sen. Kellie Warren and state Rep. Blaine Finch, the third highest ranking Republican in the Kansas House.

Other names mentioned include Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson and Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay.

Kobach would likely have the highest profile in the race, which could play to his benefit if there is a large field for attorney general.

Kobach, however, would start the campaign saddled with losing races for governor and the U.S. Senate and a reputation for an inability to raise large sums of money.

He was also held in contempt of court and ordered to take continuing legal education courses stemming from his unsuccessful defense of the proof-of-citizenship requirement for registering to vote.

Kobach personally defended the state law in that case in which a federal judge dismissed his claims of widespread voter fraud to justify the registration requirement.

A judge ordered Kobach to pay $26,000 in legal fees and expenses after being held in contempt of court.

The amount was ultimately whitted down to $20,000, which was paid by the secretary of state’s office.

Kobach drew a rebuke from the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which traditionally aligns with conservative candidates and rarely, if ever, comes out this strongly against a candidate this early in an election cycle.

“The next attorney general of Kansas needs to be someone who is trusted, competent, and focused on Kansas,” said Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the chamber.

“The Kansas business community has great concerns that as attorney general whether Kris Kobach can adequately and effectively represent Kansas businesses and individuals successfully in court. Kobach’s candidacy puts too much at risk.”

Kobach has had policy differences with the chamber in recent years, including rules for determining workers compensation awards.

Kobach, teaming with Democratic lawyer Keith Mark, had urged the Legislature to adopt a medical guidebook that could potentially reward workers more in workers compensation claims.

The chamber along with Spirit Aerosystems and the National Federation of Independent Business had opposed Kobach’s effors..

The potential Democratic field is less defined with no candidates emerging so far, although some believe a Kobach candidacy could change that very quickly and set the Democrats up to win a seat they haven’t held for more than decade.

“From the Democrats’ perspective, I couldn’t ask for better news,” said Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita, a trial lawyer and the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Let’s face it, when you have a weak and embarrassing candidate like Kris Kobach on the ticket – even in a Republican primary – it motivates not only Democrats, but moderate Republicans to get out and make sure someone like that doesn’t become the face of law enforcement in Kansas,” Carmichael said.

This would be Kobach’s eighth race for public office, starting with the Overland Park City Council about 20 years ago and most recently for U.S. Senate in 2020.

He’s won three out of the seven races he’s run for public office, twice for secretary of state and once for the City Council in Overland Park.

Kobach lost races for the state Senate 2000 and the 3rd District congressional seat in 2004 before losing his most recent runs for statewide office.

He finished third in four-way Republican primary for the state Senate in 2000, which was won by former state Sen. Barbara Allen.

Kobach won the Republican primary for Congress in 2004 but lost to former Congressman Dennis Moore in the general election.

“He’s now getting in Harold Stassen territory,” said Wasburn University political scientist Bob Beatty, referring to the former governor of Minnesota who sought the Republican Party’s presidential nomination nine times.

“He can win and it’s not impossible, but he’s become Kansas’ perennial candidate,” Beatty said.

“The positive is he’s got a lot of experience. The negative is some voters don’t like that,” Beatty said.

Beatty pointed out that back in 2005, Democrats were so driven to defeat former Attorney General Phill Kline that they persuaded then-Johnson District Attorney Paul Morrison to leave the GOP and run for attorney general as a Democrat.

Morrison went on to defeat Kline after switching parties, but later left office in scandal.

Kobach dismissed the idea that he was developing a reputation as a perpetual candidate who loses at the ballot box.

“My background and qualifications and the timing of this really make clear that this is where I can do the most good for the people of Kansas,” said Kobach, who once worked as a constitutional law professor at the University of Missoury-Kansas City.

“At this time in history, the one officer who can do the most to protect Kansans against unconstitutional actions from Washington is the attorney general,” he said.

“The attorney general is the one official who can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the people of Kansas and stop the unconstitutional action in its tracks,” he said.

Kobach said there are many Americans who have run for and held different offices.

He said his experiences as a constitutional law professor and battling the American Civil Liberties in court make him qualified for the position.

The ACLU and its associated lawyers successfully challenged Kobach’s proof of citizenship law for registering to vote in Kansas.

The law was ruled unconstitutional and the ACLU and other lawyers in the case are seeking $4 million from the state to cover their legal costs.

He noted that Abraham Lincoln ran for many offices during his lifetime, but no one said that would make him unqualified for serving in office.

Lincoln ran successfully for the Illinois House five times and once for Congress before he was elected president in 1860.

He did lose two campaigns for the U.S. Senate and one for the Illinois House.