Let’s say Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly wins the Aug. 7 Democratic primary and becomes her party’s gubernatorial nominee, and that voter-fraud obsessed Kris Kobach, the bombastic secretary of state, wins his GOP primary, too. How aggressively would careful Kelly take on cowboy Kobach?
Her strongest Democratic rival, Josh Svaty, keeps raising that question and did again in a new way by gigging Kelly on her vote for a 2011 voter fraud bill pushed by Kobach. A federal court recently threw out the law’s requirement that Kansans registering to vote must show proof of citizenship.
Svaty, who had obviously been saving up this goody, went after Kelly in a Thursday debate for “saying we have to stand up to Kris Kobach, even though you voted for his voter registration SAFE Act” that the court found unconstitutional.
After the debate, Kelly defended her vote for Kobach’s bad bill by arguing, essentially, that (almost) everybody was doing it. She’s right about that; the Senate vote was 36 to 3.
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But that makes Kelly no less responsible for her own decision to go along with Kobach’s folly, which he touted at the time as making Kansas a national leader in “addressing voter concerns about election fraud.” Instead, Kobach became a national leader in wasting time and money on a non-problem, and it’s not to Kelly’s credit that she went along, even as part of the crowd.
In a phone interview on Friday, she said that “the thinking back then was that Democrats and Republicans both wanted safe and secure elections and thought that was appropriate.”
The problem wasn’t the bill itself, she said, but the way it was later used by Kobach to kick legitimate voters off the rolls. “It was just wanting to make sure people who were voting were properly credentialed,” and it was weaponized when “we just saw a secretary of state go rogue. We never thought it would be used that way.”
Laws that make it harder rather than easier to vote are always used that way, so this should not have been any surprise.
To Svaty’s larger question about whether Kelly is prepared to take on Kobach, she laughed and said that “anybody who’s watched me work ... knows I’m tough enough.”
Unlike the secretary of state, “I’m not a screamer and I’m not a yeller. I don’t find that effective. I used to work with emotionally disturbed kids, and they only hear you when you’re level-headed.”
The last thing Kansas needs is more screaming.
And we’re glad that Svaty, a 38-year-old farmer and former ag secretary, and Kelly, a 68-year-old longtime lawmaker, continue to challenge one another primarily on the issues — on Kelly’s past votes against gun restrictions and Svaty’s past anti-abortion votes.
Svaty has said that as governor, he would veto any new abortion restrictions, and Kelly has said that she regrets her 2015 vote to allow Kansans to carry concealed weapons without a permit or any training.
But style and temperament are legitimate issues in themselves, and it is fair for Svaty to contrast Kelly’s more low-key approach to his caffeinated one.
When asked who she thought the Republican gubernatorial nominee will be, Kelly herself suggested that GOP voters won’t necessarily reward Colyer for his calmer affect. “Something tells me Kris Kobach knows something” based on polling, “or I can’t imagine he’d be up to some of the antics he is.”