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Kobach’s GOP rivals blast lack of commitment to Kansas as Trump rumors swirl

In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J.
In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. AP

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Republican rivals for governor criticized what they see as a lack of commitment to Kansas as Kobach refuses to quell rumors that he might get a position in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Kobach’s name has been floated by pundits as a possible choice to replace John Kelly as secretary of Homeland Security now that the retired marine general has been made Trump’s chief of staff.

Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Tuesday that she was “not aware of any movements” for Kobach into a new position, but she also did not definitively rule out the possibility.

Kobach met with Trump about a strategic plan for the Department of Homeland Security shortly after the election and has said that he was offered positions at the agency and the White House, which he turned down to pursue a run for governor’s office in 2018.

Kobach’s rivals in the race for governor criticized the former state GOP chair for the perception that he is still seeking a full-time role in the Trump administration while campaigning for governor. Kobach currently serves as vice chair of Trump’s voter commission, a position that is part-time and unpaid, on top of his official duties in Kansas.

“He’s not doing his current job, he’s not going to do his next job, and he keeps auditioning for new positions wherever he can find them,” said Wink Hartman, a Wichita oil magnate who is seeking the GOP nomination.

“The next governor needs to be focused on creating good paying jobs and solving Topeka’s budget problems, not climbing the political ladder. Kansans are fed up with career politicians watching out for themselves instead of the people,” Hartman said in an email.

Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley, a moderate Republican, said that based on his town halls around the state “it’s clear Kansans want a Governor one-hundred percent committed to Kansas. I would hate to think that being Governor might be a fallback position for any of the candidates.”

Samantha Poetter, Kobach’s spokeswoman, called the criticism of Kobach ludicrous in an email. She did not directly answer the question about whether he is being considered to run DHS after the White House reshuffle, but she pointed to his nine prosecutions of voter fraud cases and his reduction of spending in the secretary of state’s office as evidence of his commitment to Kansas.

“He is fully engaged in the office and has made Kansas elections the most secure in the nation,” she said.

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka doctor and the party’s 2006 nominee, said that he is not privy to what positions Kobach may be considering but that “anyone running for Governor of Kansas needs to be committed to the race, especially considering the many challenges that have been created during the Brownback/Collyer administration.”

“The next Governor needs to be focused on Kansas and not higher office or a Washington appointment,” Barnett said.

Trump has tapped the state’s current governor, Sam Brownback, to serve as ambassador at-large for international religious freedom. If Brownback is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will take over as the state’s governor for the remainder of the term, which lasts through 2018.

Colyer has yet to formally say whether he’ll enter the 2018 race.

Democratic candidate Josh Svaty, the state’s former agriculture secretary, had a simple response when asked about the possibility Kobach could be tapped for Homeland Security secretary.

“I don’t support him for either position,” said Svaty, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration.

Jonathan Shorman of The Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

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