By John Celock
WICHITA, Kan. – In addition to the focus on Kansas’ governor and U.S. Senate races, voters have put the office of secretary of state and the political future of one of the nation’s most prominent conservatives into their focus.
The race between Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) and Democrat Jean Schodorf has focused largely on Kobach’s record as the state’s top election administrator and his work on promoting voter identification and on illegal immigration. Kobach, the author of Arizona’s illegal immigration law, has become one of the country’s most prominent opponents of illegal immigration and has been seeing the issue become a top one in his bid for a second term.
Schodorf has criticized Kobach as a part time secretary of state, saying that he is spending his time focused on immigration work and not on the duties of his office. In debates and interviews, Schodorf has pressed serving full time in the office. Kobach has fought back saying that his work on illegal immigration is a hobby that he does in his off hours.
“I looked at my record and it is nine hours a week on average,” Kobach said during a recent interview with The Celock Report following a debate here. “I used to golf and I don’t anymore. I take my limited spare time and work to stop illegal immigration.”
In reponse to criticism from Schodorf and Democrats that his immigration work is causing him to leave the state – in addition to Arizona, Kobach pushed a similar law in Alabama – the Republican said that his work is conducted at his Piper home.
“Very seldom do I leave my house,” Kobach said of his immigration work. “I am sitting in my house writing a legal brief.”
Schodorf has seen things differently from Kobach, painting a picture of a secretary of state disengaged from his official duties and focused instead on immigration. In addition to overseeing elections, the Kansas secretary of state handles business registration and record keeping for the state.
Schodorf’s signs dotting highways across Kansas push that she’ll serve full time in the office.
“There are 600 duties for the secretary of state, it is a full time job,” Schodorf said in a recent debate. “The secretary of state’s office is in shambles.”
Kobach has made election security issues a centerpiece of his tenure as secretary of state and of his reelection effort. Slogans promoting the issue are on his signs dotting roadways crisscrossing the state’s 105 counties.
During his tenure Kobach has helped push voter identification in the state along with a new law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. In run-ins with federal election officials, Kobach has pushed allowing for voters to register for vote for federal elections without proof of citizenship while registering for state and local elections would require proof.
Kobach opponents have said that the new voter identification and proof of citizenship laws have disenfranchised voters, pointing to 20,000 residents who have filled out registration forms but remain in limbo because they have not provided proof of citizenship. They have also said that the identification requirements are making it harder for people to vote.
Kobach fights back saying that his has improved election security in the state, and has pursued proof of citizenship policies that are helping people to vote.
“Kansas has made extraordinary hains in election security,” Kobach said. “We went from being in the middle of the pack to being a leader.”
Kobach said that he helped push for Kansas lawmakers to adopt a proof of citizenship law that allowed for those registering to vote to provide the required proof after filling out the forms. He said this will allow a voter to fill out a form during a voter registration drive at a local mall and then send the required documents to a county election office. He said the other process would have required providing proof when filling out the forms, which he said would not be custiomer friendly.
Kobach, an affable former constitutional law professor and Yale Law School alumnus comfortable debating the fine points of legal questions, said that he cannot find a case for discontinuing the law or how it hurts voter registration. He noted that his office has been working with voters to get them off the waiting list. Earlier this year, a state board led by Kobach approved the voter registration of a 90-year-old woman who did not have a birth certificate, with the board accepting other proof that she was born in Minnesota.
“I am someone who grew up debating in high school and college. I can recognize a good argument but it is a bad argument,” Kobach said about opponents saying proof of citizenship disenfranchises voters. “Show me one person in Kansas who can’t show proof of citizenship?”
Schodorf ‘s entry into the race comes on the heels of a civil war between moderate and conservative Republicans in the state. Schodorf, a former three term Republican state senator from Wichita, was a victim of the 2012 GOP primaries that cost most of the moderate Republican their Senate seats. Schodorf immediately switched parties, becoming a Democrat hours after her Senate term ended and emerged as a likely candidate for her new party. A former Wichita school board president, Schodorf entered the secretary of state’s race following speculation that she would instead seek a seat in the state House of Representatives, the Wichita mayor’s office or a 2016 rematch against Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita).
Kobach, who is mentioned as a future gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate, has been a top target for Kansas Democrats this year.
Schodorf, who grew up on the Laura Ingells Wilder farm in southeast Kansas, has been pushing a plan for the election and business parts of the office. Speaking about boosting economic development by using the secretary of state’s office as a one stop shop for entrepreneurs, a similar to a plan Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has pushed in the Show Me State. She is also calling for business protection to be promoted by the office.
Schodorf though focuses much of her time on the election end of the office, the part of the office more visible to the state’s voters. She calls for registering more people to vote and ending the two voter registration process that Kobach has implemented.
While Democrats have tried to say that there is little voter fraud going on in Kansas, Kobach said that the amount of cases that have been prosecuted is too many for the state. He said that many of the cases are never prosecuted, citing low interest in the issue from prosecutors across Kansas. Kobach has tried to take on prosecutorial duties for his office in the area of voter fraud.
“I think 235 is a lot of cases,” Kobach told The Celock Report. “You only see the tip of the iceberg, voter fraud is rarely caught.”
Kobach found himself under fire from Democrats in September when he tried to block Democrat U.S. Senate nominee Chad Taylor’s withdrawal from the race. Kobach cited a state law that said that Taylor had to indicate that he was incapable of serving in the office if elected as part of his withdrawal. Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, would later sue to get off the ballot, with the state Supreme Court ruling in Taylor’s favor.
Democrats accused Kobach, who has backed Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) for reelection, as playing politics in the race. Taylor remaining on the ballot could have helped drain votes from independent Greg Orman in his competitive race against Roberts.
Kobach challenges that, saying that he was following state law and would have made a similar ruling if a Republican has tried to withdraw. He said that his approach to the secretary of state’s office has been the same since he started in 2011.
“The law is the law,” Kobach told The Celock Report. “It is not the executive’s job to make it up as you go along.”