Elections

Kris Kobach wins support from labor union that previously backed Democrats

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the GOP nominee for governor, delivers a speech at Kansas Republican Party headquarters alongside his wife, Heather Kobach, and their daughters.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the GOP nominee for governor, delivers a speech at Kansas Republican Party headquarters alongside his wife, Heather Kobach, and their daughters. blowry@kcstar.com

Four years ago, the Kansas State Council of Firefighters endorsed Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, running against then-Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican. Now, the union is endorsing firebrand conservative and Donald Trump loyalist Kris Kobach.

Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state and a candidate for governor, won the union’s endorsement Friday, though labor unions typically back Democrats. He announced the endorsement in Wichita, saying it was — as he understood — the first time in his lifetime the union endorsed a Republican. He was the only Republican to address the labor union’s annual conference earlier this summer.

“Our firefighters put their lives on the line again and again and stand ready to do it at a moment’s notice to keep Kansans safe,” Kobach said. “I’ll ensure that the firefighters’ sacrifices are always remembered and that their sacrifices are noticed.”

Labor groups tend to support Democrats over Republicans, and the same union earlier this month endorsed Davis, who is now running for Kansas’ 2nd District congressional seat, according to a release. The firefighters union also endorsed Davis in 2014, according to The Associated Press.

Kobach appears to be courting the union vote with the help of Keith Mark, a Democratic attorney from Basehor, Kan., who introduced him to the Trump family. Mark has been helping Kobach try to find favor with labor unions.

“You know, all too often union workers and their families are left behind by the political insiders who run Topeka,” Kobach said in Wichita. “When I’m governor, that’s going to change. We’re going to be shaking things up in Topeka, and the establishment is going to see there is a new way of doing business in Topeka.”

Kobach said he would work to drive economic growth, look at Kansas’ workers’ compensation system to make sure it’s fair and ensure pensions are secure.

“I believe Kansans need to have a working environment that’s safe for all of its workers, and if they are unfortunately injured on the job that they are fairly taken care of,” Kobach said.

That’s especially important for firefighters, who have uniquely dangerous jobs, he said.

Robert Wing, president of the firefighters union, said in a release from the Kobach campaign that he was convinced Kobach cares about firefighters.

“You understand the need to protect firefighters against the risk of cancer due to our hazardous occupation and the need to ensure our pension plan is secure,” Wing said. “My members know that ... you will do everything to keep firefighters and all first responders as safe as possible.”

Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said it was unusual to see the union back a Republican, but he predicted the endorsement would be helpful for Kobach.

“One of the keys for Kobach is to counter claims that he’s an extremist candidate, so ... endorsements from mainstream organizations such as unions are going to help him,” Beatty said.

Republican candidate for Kansas governor Kris Kobach spoke shortly after the primary election results from Johnson County were certified. Kobach said the trend appears to be in his favor, and he called for party unity.

Jonathan Shorman of the Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.
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