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America's Worst Republican Could Soon Lose His Office

Why everyone must tune in to Kris Kobach's race in Kansas

Associated Press

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Democrat Chad Taylor could vacate his ballot spot in the Senate election, creating a two-man race between Republican Senator Pat Roberts and ex-Democrat-turned-Independent Greg Orman. That’s a victory for Kansas Democrats who believed that Orman has a much better chance of unseating Roberts than Taylor did, and it’s a setback for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who tried to block Taylor from removing his name.

Kobach is running for re-election against Republican-turned-Democrat Jean Schodorf. Ordinarily, a race like this would be irrelevant in national politics, but Kobach is a crusader against illegal immigrants—and, by extension, most immigrants not of European extraction—and has used a minor state office to rewrite Kansas’s voting laws. He has long been associated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization founded by a proponent of eugenics and population control and funded in part by the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded to promote “race betterment.” He is also quite effective, and even brilliant, at what he does.

Kobach, who is now 48, grew up in Topeka. He went to Harvard, where he studied under Samuel Huntington, who at the end of a long and glorious career, had become obsessed himself with the threat that immigrants from the south posed to American civilization. Kobach wrote a prize-winning senior thesis on the efforts during the apartheid era of South African business to evade the effects of sanctions. He got a law degree from Yale and returned to Kansas where he practiced law in Kansas City and taught law at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

In 2001, he joined the Bush administration, first as a White House fellow and then as an aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft, where he helped devise the national security visa system that required Muslims and Middle Easterners  to register and be finger-printed. (It was suspended in 2011 because it had proved both ineffective and discriminatory.) In 2003, he returned to Kansas City, where he ran for Congress against Democratic incumbent Dennis Moore. He called for keeping out illegal immigrants and making English America’s official language. He lost, but six years later ran for secretary of state on a platform of preventing immigrant voter fraud.

In the meantime, Kobach had become the senior counsel for FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute. He remains today their senior counsel. With FAIR, Kobach helped write Arizona’s highly discriminatory immigration law, which required police to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally and advised other states, including Alabama, that have passed similar legislation. He also filed suit to prevent Kansas, Nebraska, and California from offering in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants, and he has defended laws in Nebraska, Texas, and Pennsylvania that would make it illegal to rent to undocumented immigrants.

In his 2010 campaign for secretary of state, he promised to stamp out voter fraud. (Kobach has been able to come up with one case—from 1997—that involved fraud by an undocumented immigrant.) After Kobach was elected, he got the Kansas legislature to pass and Governor Sam Brownback to sign a law that allowed him to rewrite the state’s election registration laws. Kobach adopted rules requiring all new registrants to show documented proof of citizenship to obtain Kansas registration. At the polls, all registered voters had to show photo identification.  

In the run-up to this year’s election, Kobach was able to disqualify almost 20,000 new registrants because they hadn’t proven their citizenship. These had to include many people (including a 92-year-old woman who appealed her denial) who for one reason or another didn’t have passports or birth certificates on hand. Kobach’s ruling created a weird two-tier system, where Kansans who had national voter registration, which only requires a registrant to swear that he or she is a citizen, could vote in congressional or senate selections, but unless they had a Kansas voter registration, which requires proof of citizenship, could not vote in a state or local race.

There are, of course, anti-immigration nuts who don’t care about any other issues or about politics in general, but Kobach is also an avid partisan who was chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. His rulings on voter registration appear equally designed to help Republicans and to eliminate an alien presence in American life. His attempt to keep Taylor on the ballot—and his subsequent threat to force the Democrats to replace him on the ballot—reflects a diehard partisanship that shows little concern for legal niceties. In 2012, he even justified an attempt to keep Obama off the Kansas ballot on the grounds he had not proved his citizenship. And he is also a hardline rightwinger on the welfare state (he wants to remove Kansas entirely from the purview of the Affordable Care Act) and on guns, championing a law that has made guns produced in Kansas not subject to federal regulation. (He is a shareholder in a new Kansas gun firm aptly called Minuteman Defense.)

Kobach is running again on his attempt to stamp out voter fraud, and enjoys the enthusiastic support of anti-Obama stalwart Ted Nugent. “The Leftists and commies are working overtime to defeat him in this year’s election,” Nugent warned. Kobach’s opponent, Schodorf, is a former Republican state senator who was ousted in the 2010 primary by a more conservative challenger backed by Brownback and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce. She switched parties to run against Kobach.  Schodorf has never run statewide before, and faces a two-to-one Republican edge in registration in a race that voters don't normally pay attention to, but she has been running even in the polls and could benefit from the snafu over keeping Taylor on the ballot.

If Schodorf does win, it will be a victory for American democracy and not simply the Democratic Party. Kobach is that bad. To be sure, there has always been a case to be made for better controlling American borders and for discouraging entry by undocumented workers, but Kobach’s position, like that of FAIR, edges into the dark corners of nativism. And his attempt to manipulate state election laws is quite simply an attempt to subvert the democratic process. Here’s to his defeat and banishment from elected office.