Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has selected a Wichita businessman who previously blasted his candidacy to serve as his running mate in his campaign for governor.
He made the announcement a day after a federal judge scolded him during a contempt hearing for violating her trust and failing to adhere to previous court orders in a legal battle that could continue to hang over Kobach’s candidacy through the rest of the campaign.
Wink Hartman, a Wichita oil magnate who dropped out of the race for governor last month and endorsed Kobach, officially joined the ticket as Kobach’s running mate during an event Wednesday morning in Topeka.
Before endorsing Kobach, Hartman had publicly derided Kobach for “not doing his current job.”
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Hartman also emailed several lawmakers, prominent GOP donors and activists in June about Kobach’s claims that Topeka is rife with corruption.
“This is exactly the type of elected official that Kansas does not need for its’ next Governor. Leadership is not about making false accusations on yet another subject,” Hartman said in an email obtained by The Star.
During an interview Wednesday, Hartman said his views on Kobach had evolved.
“Not to oversimplify my answer, but you’re talking about eight, nine, 10 months back,” Hartman said when asked about his past comments.
“I’ve gotten to know Kris not only as an individual, but as a strong conservative leader of Kansas and he is the person who will most likely be the next governor of Kansas. … It’s like a business deal. You do more research. You delve into the process heavier and some people’s views change and mature.”
Kobach said he would like Hartman to serve as the state’s “auditor on steroids” in the office of lieutenant governor. He compared it to a company’s chief operating officer during his event in Topeka.
“An expert who will go in and analyze each of the agencies, spend a month or two in each one, and then make recommendations about how to cut the budget of that agency,” he said.
The running mates already have a painted bus that touts Kobach’s campaign as “PRO-LIFE,” “PRO-GUN” and “PRO-AG.”
The timing of the announcement was notable because it came a day after Kobach faced a contempt hearing in federal court as part of the ongoing litigation on the state’s proof of citizenship requirement to vote, a policy Kobach crafted and championed.
The Hartman announcement is a way to try to control the message, said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.
"If you want to be crass, you could say it's a middle finger to the court, maybe," Miller said. "But it's a way of saying 'This doesn't matter. This is irrelevant. I'm going to keep doing my thing, campaigning, staying on my goals, and this isn't going to get in my way and slow me down.’ ”
Kobach opted to serve as his own attorney during the two-week voting rights trial in Kansas City, Kan., where he faced off against attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union on the legality of the state’s proof of citizenship requirement.
He downplayed the idea that the trial, which could strike down his signature policy and also lead to him being held in contempt of court, could affect his campaign.
"I don't think it really affects things that much at all," Kobach said. "I really don't. I think the only maybe indirect effect might be that people just see that I'm defending our proof of citizenship law against the ACLU and are reminded of that fact. But no, I don't see a direct impact. Some people do follow judicial proceedings pretty closely, but I think most people probably don't."
Kobach received several tongue-lashings from U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson during the trial and subsequent contempt hearing for failing to follow the rules of civil procedure and not adhering to her previous orders in the case.
"I think she does her best to run a very fair courtroom and she's an excellent judge when it comes to the rules of evidence and tries to really strictly enforce them,” Kobach said when asked about the scolding he received from Robinson.
Robinson lectured Kobach about attempting gamesmanship in the case and reminded him of his ethical obligation to tell the truth during the contempt hearing.
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said Kobach’s performance in the courtroom could hurt him in the race for governor because it raises questions about his competence.
“Initially, I thought this would only hurt him in the general, but now there’s a pile-on effect,” Beatty said last week. “Every day the judge (is) questioning the tactics of the Kobach team, so I think we’re now in the zone where it’s hurting him in the primary.”
Kobach paired the announcement that Hartman had joined his team with the release of poll results that showed him leading Gov. Jeff Colyer in the race for the nomination 31 percent to 18 percent.
The poll was conducted last week by Louisiana-based JMC Analytics & Polling and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, according to Kobach’s team. The poll drew heavily from voters from the Wichita region and western Kansas, where Kobach's support was slightly stronger than in the rest of the state.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and one of Kobach’s harshest critics, saw both announcements as an effort to distract from Kobach’s courtroom woes.
“Obviously the secretary is trying to distract people from the embarrassment that he caused the state of Kansas in Judge Robinson's court room," Carmichael said.
"Secondarily, his reliance and announcement of a poll that shows that he is ahead is about as valid as the polls that he tried to introduce in the federal court. He makes up fake facts to suit the circumstance, and so this just part of a continuing pattern of deception by our secretary of state."
Colyer has been silent about Kobach’s courtroom hurdles, but former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka Republican also seeking the nomination, seized on them when responding to the news that Hartman had joined Kobach’s campaign.
"I think the secretary has experienced a couple of really bad weeks in the press," Barnett said. "He appears as very inept as an attorney and I think that the timing of this would suggest he's looking for something positive as a message."
Hartman loaned more than $1.6 million of his own money to his now aborted campaign for governor. He wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he would devote similar resources to Kobach’s campaign.
“Kris and I will discuss that when and if we need to," Hartman said. "That will be handled in the future."
Hartman later joked that unlike the state, the campaign plans to have a balanced budget.
Kobach pointed to Hartman’s shared views and business experience as the primary reasons for selecting him as a running mate.
Hartman said that he is planning to be a full-time lieutenant governor if elected.
“I don’t want to be a lieutenant governor who just does the charity dinners and the ribbon cuttings,” he said.