Nothing induces anxiety in a Kansas liberal like seeing our state government make national headlines. The butt of every “we told you so,” Kansas has become the quintessential failed far-right experiment, from devastating blows to our already weak education system to the supply-side tax code that halted job growth and state revenue while gutting vital Social Security programs.
Which other state has such an abysmal political track record that a bestselling book had to ask, what’s the matter with it?
The end of 2016 brought Kansas headlines in droves, thanks to Secretary of State Kris Kobach vying for a spot in President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Initially considered for attorney general, later for secretary of homeland security and now perhaps for assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice, Kobach is serving on Trump’s transition team and was an early supporter.
To put it bluntly: Be thankful that retired Gen. John Kelly was picked for the top Department of Homeland Security spot over Kobach, one of the worst arbiters of Kansas’ failed experiment. That being said, the rest of the country should take a page out of our books and be wary of whatever his future role in the administration might be.
Kobach’s accidental leak of immigration plans foreshadowed a terrifying future for immigrants in this country. Included were plans to resurrect the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System — known as the Muslim registry — though it has been deemed unconstitutional and was to have “no discernible public benefit.”
He also planned to curtail the entry of Syrian refugees to zero and supported Trump’s vision of a wall along the southern border. Perhaps most repugnant, Kobach urged the vision to deport all “criminal immigrants” immediately after being arrested for a crime of any scale, before they are even convicted.
Kobach is a danger to safe immigration. As a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor, he helped draft some of the country’s most brutal immigration legislation: Arizona’s 2010 Senate Bill 1070 that authorized and required law enforcement officers to stop and demand papers from anyone they suspected to have entered the country illegally. This bill was quickly deemed unconstitutional for encouraging racial profiling, but it continues to be heralded by Republican lawmakers today.
Kobach and his views of citizenship are deeply troubling. After the election, he planted the bug in Trump’s and newly appointed counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway’s ears of totally unfounded claims of voter fraud. The architect of some of the strictest voter ID laws around the nation, Kobach has harassed voters. His most recent witch hunt entails tracking down every Kansan who voted with a temporary driver’s license to incite more fears of voter fraud.
Meanwhile, Kobach recently made local news for defending an actual case of voter fraud. Frederick, Kan., voted in November on whether to stay incorporated or dissolve. Of the 20 ballots collected, only nine were from voters registered in the town.
When Kobach was asked to comment, his administration denied the claim of voter fraud and wrote it off as a simple error. Though minuscule in scale, this was a proportionally egregious example of voter fraud, but Kobach clearly had no problem with a vote that didn’t present the opportunity to propagate xenophobia.
Kobach’s rhetoric on citizenship and immigration has been terrifying for years. His policies have ripped apart families, and his prospects for an administration position paint a bleak picture for the next four years. Fellow Kansans will warn to be wary of what’s to come. I’m happy to have never woken up to the headline “Trump appoints Kobach for DHS,” but I remain anxious, as always, to see Kansas in the news.
Utsa Ramaswami, a Shawnee Mission East graduate, studies Urban Studies and Architecture at Columbia University in New York City.