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Question of Sen. Pat Roberts’ Kansas residency to be decided Monday

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 11, 2014, at 7:43 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, May 12, 2014, at 7:01 a.m.

About the only thing that is certain in the question over Sen. Pat Roberts’ residency is that the state Board of Objections will decide Monday whether Roberts is enough of a Kansas resident to run for re-election.

But exactly who will meet to make that decision is still an open question.

State law names the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state as the triumvirate that decides residency when someone challenges the status of political candidates and their eligibility to actually run for the office they’re seeking. In this case, it is supporters of Milton Wolf, Roberts’ tea party-backed Republican primary opponent, who have filed a challenge.

But Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer told The Eagle that he planned to recuse himself because he has endorsed Roberts and attended Roberts’ campaign kickoff at the state Capitol a week ago.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he hadn’t fully decided whether to do the same. But he said he’s leaning toward participating on the panel, although he attended the same Roberts campaign kickoff as Colyer did.

Kobach said state law set the board up with three elected officials and, as a result, it’s almost certain that there would be some partisan and intraparty squabbles to come before the group. If it were a judicial proceeding, strict conflict-of-interest guidelines would apply, but the Board of Objections is a different kind of panel, he said.

“I think the standard has to be a little bit different,” Kobach said. “They created a board out of three elected politicians.

“If we had to recuse ourselves any time we had any affiliation with somebody who was the subject of an objection, then the members of the board would never sit.”

Kobach said there is precedent for members of the board to designate a representative to sit on the panel in their place and that Colyer may take that route.

The residency filings against candidates have become more political in recent years.

In the 2012 election, the panel was tasked with hearings on whether President Obama was actually born in Kenya and whether Wichita debate teacher Rodney Wren, then a candidate for state representative, lived with his fiancee.

“It’s possible for some people to abuse the election process in order to create a story,” Kobach said. “I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here (in the Wolf-Roberts case); it may have happened in the past.”

But he added, “The process itself is really important, because there has to be a way of ensuring people that the candidates do meet the qualifications for office.”

In the Roberts case, Wolf’s supporters have filed for a decision on whether the senator is still a resident of the state.

At a news conference about a week ago, just before Roberts filed for re-election, Wolf renewed his claim that the senator is really a resident of the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., where he owns a house and lives while Congress is in session. Wolf also cited that a duplex Roberts owns in Dodge City is rented out and that his voting residence is a rented room in a campaign supporter’s home.

Roberts counters that he owns property in Dodge City, pays his taxes there and votes there – all key indicators of eligibility to run for office. A fourth-generation Kansan by birth, Roberts said, “Home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Kansas.”

Ken Ciboski, a Wichita State University professor of political science and an active Republican, said he thinks it’s “kind of funny” to send elected officials to Washington to represent the state and then claim that they lose their Kansas residency as a result.

“I would bet that they’re going to reaffirm that he (Roberts) is a resident of the state of Kansas,” Ciboski said. “Pat Roberts has longstanding roots here.”

But Dan Heflin, a local conservative Republican activist, former state House candidate and Wolf supporter, said he thinks Roberts has been in Washington too long to legitimately claim to be a Kansan.

“When he has time off, he doesn’t come back to a home, he comes back to whatever hotel he’s staying in,” Heflin said.

Heflin acknowledged that Roberts does make frequent public appearances but said, “Pat seems to concentrate on big party events.”

He lauded Sen. Jerry Moran for holding numerous town hall meetings in large and small towns throughout the state.

Heflin said he has participated in two town hall meetings with Roberts, both by telephone.

“He’s sitting in Washington doing that,” Heflin said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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