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Voter group criticizes Kobach work schedule

By DAVE HELLING
The Kansas City Star

A voter advocacy group claimed Thursday that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s 2011-2012 office calendar contains gaps and inconsistencies, suggesting that he spends too much time working on issues unrelated to his office.

But Kobach, a Republican, defended his work ethic and said the critics were simply misreading his schedule.

“My calendar principally just includes my appointments and scheduled interviews,” he said. “The time that’s not scheduled is the time like right now when I’m working on documents, reading court cases …. The claim they are making is completely unsupported by the calendar.”

In February, a coalition of liberal and voter-registration groups calling itself “Kansans Count” filed an open records request for Kobach’s calendar. Members released the documents at a news conference, suggesting they showed an accumulated six unaccounted weeks in Kobach’s work schedule in 2011 and early this year.

The calendar also shows more than 100 media interviews and appearances, said Louis Goseland with KanVote, a part of the coalition and a leading group contesting the state’s new voter requirements.

Many of those interviews dealt with immigration and ranged from national media figures such as Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity to a speech before the Oskaloosa Rotary Club. The records also reflected prayer sessions in the office and staff and legislative meetings.

“He is not making our elections a priority,” Goseland said. “Instead, what he’s made a priority is establishing his political identity as a man who’s tough on immigration. Well, immigration is not his responsibility.”

The coalition stressed that it was not claiming Kobach had broken any law.

KanVote describes itself as a non-partisan organization “determined to adapt to, survive, and fight the voter suppression laws currently threatening democracy in our state.” It has worked with liberal groups such as Occupy Wichita and the South Central Kansas Peace and Social Justice Center.

Kobach has worked on immigration issues in other states since taking office in 2011. But he maintains that he does that work in his off-hours or vacation time, and carefully separates that work from his secretary of state duties.

State law and rules allow elected officials wide latitude in determining their work schedules.

Kobach said the group’s real aim was to discredit the state’s voter ID law, which he helped write. Starting this year, Kansas voters must provide approved photo identification before casting a ballot.

“Their true purpose is to argue against voter ID and proof of citizenship,” he said.

Beginning next year, voters must provide proof of citizenship before they can register in Kansas, although Kobach is trying to accelerate that part of the law.

But KanVote and other critics of the law said the state is ill-prepared to implement the photo ID requirement. Under the law, Kansans can get an approved photo ID free of charge, but KanVote argued that local authorities aren’t prepared to provide those IDs — a failure they blamed on Kobach.

“When you push forward stringent requirements around voter ID, your priority should be to make sure that people are able to fulfill those requirements,” Goseland said.

Kobach said his office is helping local jurisdictions implement the law. He said roughly 10 people applied for free photo IDs in January.

“I just think it’s silly,” he said, referring to the criticism of his calendar and work habits.

To reach Dave Helling call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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