U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts will remain on the Republican primary ballot after a state board rejected six challenges to his candidacy Monday.
Supporters of tea party candidate Milton Wolf contend that Roberts, R-Dodge City, is not a resident of Kansas because he owns a home in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., and thus should be excluded from the ballot.
“Sen. Roberts has been perpetrating a sham on the citizens of Kansas,” said Chuck Henderson, a Wolf supporter who submitted one of the objections.
The State Objections Board unanimously denied the objections, finding they weren’t based in law.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the three Republican office holders who sit on the board, recused themselves from the proceeding and sent proxies. They all have endorsed Roberts.
Brant Laue, chief counsel to the governor’s office, who served in Colyer’s stead, said the reasons for the ruling would be laid out in a written explanation to be released soon.
But Deputy Attorney General John Campbell voiced frustration that the objectors were unable to point to case law to support their claims.
“You say you want law but you have no law to cite,” Campbell told Henderson.
Henderson said no case law was needed and that the test should be common sense. He contended that Roberts would not qualify for in-state tuition at Kansas State University, the senator’s alma mater.
Michael Kuckelman, Roberts’ attorney, said Roberts meets the qualifications set forth by the U.S. Constitution, which requires that a person be an inhabitant of a state when elected to the Senate.
Kuckelman said Roberts could prove his residency in Dodge City, but did not need to. The term inhabitant is legally distinct and federal courts have repeatedly ruled that states could not impose residency requirements on congressional candidates, he added.
Kuckelman called criticism of the senator’s Virginia home a red herring.
“He has to have a place to lay down at night. ... He’s doing the job we sent him to do,” Kuckelman said, adding it should be up to voters to decide whether to keep Roberts as their senator.
Roberts did not attend the meeting; the U.S. Senate is in session.
After the meeting, Henderson said that he had not expected the panel to remove Roberts from the ballot, but that the senator’s absence would help Wolf supporters make their case on the campaign trail.
“That secret is out,” he said.
The decision still helps Wolf’s campaign publicize the idea that Roberts has been in Washington too long, said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University.
“Anything that comes out of this ballot issue, even a decision saying he’s on the ballot, promotes his theme … so that’s part of his campaign. Wolf can’t lose on this,” he said.
The rhetoric at the meeting was often nasty.
Nancy Hanahan, a Wolf supporter, called Roberts a fraud. She also criticized the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director, Clay Barker, who was in the audience, for submitting a legal brief that contended that constitutionally the matter should be up to federal authority instead of the state board.
Barker said the party has made no official endorsement of either candidate and that the brief was not meant to help Roberts over Wolf.
“We were just stating our position on what the law should be, letting the facts fall where they were. We didn’t take a position on what conclusion the board should make,” he said.
Wolf’s supporters also criticized Colyer, Kobach and Schmidt for sending proxies.
“Well, everybody in state government’s endorsed a candidate sooner or later. Does that mean you’re excused from doing your job?” Earl Long, an Overland Park resident, said during his testimony.
Colyer previously told The Eagle he would recuse himself because he had endorsed Roberts.
Ben Hartman, Wolf’s campaign manager, questioned the legal basis for the officials to appoint substitutes.
“You had a board that was supposed to be made up of three elected officials and instead we had a board that were three unelected people, so they’ll essentially never have to answer to citizens for the decisions they made,” Hartman said.
Barker said the party would survive the tough primary.
But Beatty said he’s hoping that the campaign will focus on issues beyond residency.
“Both campaigns are spending a lot of time on this. … It’s not just that it’s negative. But it’s fairly far removed from what candidates for U.S. Senate should be talking about the majority of the time,” he said.