A Kansas official who's helping lead President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud announced Thursday that he's running for the Republican nomination for governor.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach gained a national reputation for championing tough voter identification laws and helping to draft state and local laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. He's jumping into the 2018 governor's race only two days after Kansas legislators enacted a law rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback over Brownback's veto. Kobach criticized the Legislature's move.
"Our people deserve so much better than what's happening in Topeka right now," Kobach said Thursday in a speech kicking off his campaign. "We're going in the wrong direction."
Kobach opened his campaign at a barn converted into an events center in the Kansas City suburbs of Johnson County, the state's most populous county and home to about 22 percent of all Kansas voters. It's crucial, vote-rich territory for any candidate for governor, and Kobach has a strong base there, though he now lives on a farm outside Lawrence, about 30 miles west.
Kobach, 51, is a strong abortion opponent and gun-rights advocate, Harvard-, Yale- and Oxford-educated former law professor, ex-U.S. Justice Department official and former Kansas Republican Party chairman. He has advised Trump for months, first on immigration, then on election fraud issues.
Before pursuing voter ID laws, Kobach was best known for helping to draft tough laws against illegal immigration, including Arizona's "show your papers" law in 2010.
Trump named Kobach vice chairman of the election fraud commission, with Vice President Mike Pence as chairman. The voter ID laws in Kansas that Kobach advocated have sparked multiple lawsuits from such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union. He has served as Kansas' elected secretary of state since 2011 and is the only chief state elections officer with the power to prosecute voter fraud authority he sought from legislators.
"By nominating Kris Kobach for governor, the Republican Party would continue to endorse the failures of Sam Brownback," Kansas Democratic Party Chairman John Gibson said in an email statement after Kobach's announcement. "Whoever our colleagues on the other side of the aisle choose as their standard bearer, we look forward to a vigorous debate about the direction of our state."
Brownback is term-limited, and there has been speculation that he'll resign by the fall to take an ambassador's position in the Trump administration, automatically elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor. Colyer is considered a potential Republican candidate regardless, but Kobach brings a base of ardent conservative supporters into the race.
The contest could become crowded: A Wichita oil company owner, Wink Hartman, has been campaigning for the Republican nomination since February, and former state Rep. Ed O'Malley, CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, is exploring the GOP race. On the Democratic side, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty have announced they're running, though the GOP wields a major electoral advantage in the state.
Kobach has never been shy about weighing in on issues outside the formal bounds of the secretary of state's office.
He's recently been commenting on the Legislature's debate about raising taxes to fix the state budget and provide extra money for public schools. Many voters soured last year on the tax-cutting Brownback experiment initiated in 2012 and elected more Democrats and GOP moderates to the Legislature setting the stage for this week's rollback.
In a tweet, Kobach labeled as "obscene" the tax increase approved by lawmakers, $1.2 billion over two years.
"It is time to drain the swamp in Topeka," Kobach tweeted Wednesday morning, after Brownback's veto was overridden, adopting a Trump presidential campaign slogan.
Shortly after Kobach's announcement Thursday, Sedgwick County Clerk and Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold released a statement announcing a possible run for Kansas secretary of State.