OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — Running as the only conservative outsider in the race, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is gearing up in earnest to advance from the agency he heads to take residence at Cedar Crest, the Sunflower State’s governor’s mansion.
Kobach recently said that he is a known quantity in state politics and doesn’t have to “spend a lot of time and money explaining what my position is or what my brand is,” but despite his nearly 15-year record of running statewide campaigns, Kobach insists he is the outsider candidate bucking the establishment. And, if his stance on the recent tax hikes the state imposed on Kansans is any indication, he just may be right.
Last week, the secretary of state held a fundraiser headlined by his friend and ally Donald Trump Jr., who sat for questions before a packed house of donors. Breitbart News covered the Trump appearance but also had a chance to sit down with Kobach to quiz him on his goals and themes for his run for governor.
In his comments to Breitbart, the secretary of state and Trump supporter characterized his campaign as that of an outsider facing down big government insiders.
“This race in Kansas is a race that looks like it may end up being the establishment versus me, a conservative who wants to make significant and serious changes and is not part of the cozy insiders of Topeka,” Kobach said.
“So, I think you’re going to see, as things go on, a lot of the establishment lobbyists will start to galvanize around one of my opponents to try and stop me,” he reckoned:
But, I think the conservative base in Kansas, a lot of the same voters who Trump had, they are not necessarily Republican partisans, but are very patriotic, very commonsensical, they’re practical, they want a straight shooting leader. A lot of those people will also rally around our campaign, so I think generally just looking globally at the campaign you’re going to see an establishment force versus someone coming in from outside and shaking things up.
Foremost on Kobach’s mind was his stance on the recently enacted tax hikes that he says seriously undermined the Kansas economy.
“Kansas had been moving in a very pro-growth, Low-tax direction, but the coalition of Democrats plus liberal Republicans in the 2017 legislative session succeeded in putting the brakes on that and reversing it when they didn’t have to because they could have balanced the budget without raising taxes one penny,” he told Breitbart News.
“I just found that infuriating because there are many issues that fall under the Republican banner but protecting the taxpayer is right up there at the top,” he continued. “And I just felt that so many Republicans betrayed their constituents, and of course, the Democrats did what was predictable.”
Kobach added that rolling back that tax hike is a big issue for him. He said his goal would be to “make Kansas a low-tax state again because right now we are the highest taxed state in the five-state area — that’s combined income tax and sales tax. And it’s really sad because we were among the lowest before 2015.”
Because so many of the establishment Republicans in Kansas had pushed and supported the tax hike, Kobach says his stance against the hike decidedly makes him the outsider in this campaign.
I’m the only candidate in this who is vocally, repeatedly saying that we need to reverse this tax hike and we need to get some relief to Kansas taxpayers. I mean, most of the other candidates are either completely quiet on the subject, or they’re saying very little which is, frankly, sad. The Republican primary should be about a group of people who all agree that taxes need to be cut. The only distinction should be how much do we want to cut them or how do we want to cut them. But, unfortunately, in this primary race, I’m the only one who is vocal about saying they need to be cut and they need to be cut right away. And I’m not aware of any other candidate who said it. It’s possible they may have said it to a very small crowd, but I’ve certainly not heard it.
Kobach, who has written for Breitbart in the past, also insisted that, along with tax cuts, government spending needs to also be slashed. He pointed out that he doesn’t just talk about cutting spending, he has actually achieved it with his duties as secretary of state.
“One of my early columns for Breitbart was how we have this opportunity in a generation to cut spending because the baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 11,000 a day nationally,” Kobach said. “So, when I went into my agency I saw this happening and I thought there was an opportunity here. We didn’t have to fire anyone, but we could still shrink government by not replacing them all. And it worked extremely well. Every state agency needs to do the same thing I did at the secretary of state’s office, just use the natural attrition of people retiring to shrink the agency. We only replaced about two out of three of the people who retired from positions. It helped us to shrink the workforce by 18 percent.”
“It should be one of our top priorities that we are constantly fighting to do, and we have this huge opportunity to do it, but a lot of Republicans talk the talk, but they don’t want to walk the walk,” he concluded on the topic.
Kobach was also worried about the mounting opioid crisis sweeping America. While Kansas may not have the same level of trouble from the dangerous wave of drugs as other places in the country, he still feels it was an important issue that needs to be addressed in Topeka.
“The opioid crisis is a real problem, and I know that a lot of people in Kansas are aware that of it,” Kobach said. “You know, it’s not like it is in places like New Hampshire or places like that where the magnitude is so huge like it is, you know, at the very top of everyone’s agenda.”
Kobach has been in the news for being a driving force for President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission, and he feels that Kansas has been a leader in rooting out voter fraud and keeping the state’s elections true and reliable.
But liberals have attacked Kobach as being a leader in “suppressing” voters. It is a charge that he vociferously refutes. Indeed, he thinks the issue of voter fraud shouldn’t even be partisan.
It’s unfortunate that so many on the left don’t even want to look for it because stopping voter fraud is not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democrat issue, it’s an American issue. I mean, we want our elections to be fair, we need our elections to be fair and, unfortunately, some on the radical left, they’ll politicize it by trying to say, you know, talking about voter fraud or doing anything about voter fraud suppresses votes, and that is absolutely idiotic. They even make the argument that the existence of the commission suppresses votes which is a completely inane argument. How in the world does studying the problem of voter fraud cause people not to go to the polls? It’s just an idiotic argument.
Then they make the argument, well, the commission might present lots of information about how widespread voter fraud is, and that might induce state legislators to better secure their elections by adopting photo ID laws or proof of citizenship laws. The notion that the commission does that is ridiculous. The commission simply puts facts on the table. The commission cannot do a Jedi mind trick and make any state legislator change his laws. And it’s a bipartisan commission, so I expect that there will be differences of opinion of what the best laws are.
Kobach also rejects the claim that his commission is a partisan tool to suppress votes.
“The most important goal of the commission is to simply put facts on the table,” Kobach said. “The issue of how to secure our elections and how much voter fraud there is have become intensely political when they shouldn’t be. It should just be a factual question and, you know, how large is the issue of voter fraud and what are the best ways to deal with them.”
He says that it is “idiotic” for the left to want to torpedo the work of the commission. “Let’s just put the numbers on the table and let the American people decide,” he said.
Kobach also noted that Kansas is a leader in this area.
“It is a very real issue based on my experience in Kansas that needs to be addressed, and we have addressed it. I’d say it’s fair to say we are the toughest state in the union to commit voter fraud,” he said.
When asked if he thought the left has a point that voter ID laws could suppress voter turnout, Kobach scoffed at the idea and said that the recent voter ID laws in Kansas show the left’s worries to be unfounded.
As far as voter ID, we’ve studied it in Kansas. We adopted our photo ID law, and proof of citizenship were adopted the same time, though they had different effective dates. Photo ID went in January of 2012, and proof of citizenship went in 2013, but if you compare the 2010 election to the 2014 election in Kansas versus surrounding states and versus the rest of the country, we saw stronger turnout comparatively speaking than other states that did not adopt those laws. In other words, nationally, between the 2010 midterm election and the 2014 midterm election, voter participation went down significantly across the country. But in Kansas, it remained roughly the same even though we had adopted both of those election security reforms. So, the notion that it depressed turnout is disproven by the statistics in Kansas.
Finally, Kobach addressed the claim made by some Kansas media figures that he is modeling his campaign on Donald Trump’s run in 2016.
Kobach, though, said that the similarities are more incidental than purposeful.
“There are similarities between my campaign for governor and Donald Trump’s campaign for president, but it’s not deliberate,” he said.
“For example, I’ve been talking about the dangers of illegal immigration publicly since 2004 when I ran for Congress. I talked about putting the National Guard on the border, and I talked about all the terrorism problems with illegal immigration, and it was kind of like I was a voice in the wilderness at that time,” Kobach continued. “So, I’ve been on this issue for a long time, and when President Trump started talking about it, it resonated. In that case, it is something I’ve been talking about publicly for more than a decade at that point. I worked for the Ashcroft Justice Department as his chief adviser on immigration about border security, so I’ve been working quietly behind the scenes before I started talking about it in the public sphere.”
Kobach also said that his issue of putting an end to corruption in Topeka is far more specific to Kansas than to Trump’s general idea of “draining the swamp.”
“There are some similarities with the culture of corruption in Topeka and the president’s ‘drain the swamp’ approach, but they are different specific issues,” Kobach insisted. “We have a specific problem, like unrecorded secret votes being taken in Kansas committees. Most states do not do that, Congress does not do that. So, we have some of our own specific problems that are manifestations of corruption, so it’s a similar theme, but it’s our own specific problems that need to be solved.”
Kris Kobach currently faces a very long list of up to eight or more other candidates including Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ed Selzer. Certainly, some of these candidates will drop their effort before the August 7 primary next year, but as it stands now, Kobach is a favorite in the race. By some accounts, Lt. Gov. Colyer is Kobach’s most serious opponent. Many also expect the winner of the GOP primary to face Democrat Jim Ward in the November general election.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.