TOPEKA — Chris Biggs, the Democratic state securities commissioner, was picked to become secretary of state on Tuesday.
The decision by Gov. Mark Parkinson could give Biggs a jump start in this fall's race for secretary of state — though the other four candidates downplayed that.
Parkinson, a Democrat, said he made his pick out of the approximately 15 people who expressed interest based on Biggs' experience and reputation.
"He shares my view that elections need to be open and we need to do everything we can to get people to vote," the governor said.
Former Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a Republican who served four terms, resigned Feb. 15 to become a senior vice president for Olathe-based NIC Inc., which builds and manages government Web sites.
Biggs, 51, had been securities commissioner since 2003. He also served 14 years as Geary County attorney.
"The biggest problem we have, and this is apparent to me, is not one of voter fraud but of voter apathy," Biggs said shortly after being sworn in by Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton R. Nuss.
One of his opponents for the seat in the fall, former state Republican Party Chairman Kris Kobach, has claimed voter fraud is widespread in Kansas.
Two other candidates will compete with Kobach for the Republican nomination for the office: Shawnee County Election Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley and Salina businessman J.R. Claeys.
In the Democratic primary, Biggs will face off against state Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City, Kan.
Democrats praised Parkinson's choice.
Biggs has a knowledge of the law and sense of fairness about the process, said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, the House assistant minority leader.
"I have found him to be a very conscientious public servant and I wish him well in the primary and I will do everything I can to make sure he is the Democratic nominee in the primary," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Steineger said Biggs' appointment won't affect his campaign for secretary of state.
"I have worked hard for the people of Wyandotte County for 14 years, and I will continue to work on behalf of the people of Kansas. I am undeterred by this appointment," he said in a written statement.
The Republican candidates shrugged off the appointment as well.
"The people of Kansas are looking for someone with business experience and passion for elections as our next Secretary of State — not a politician using the office as a stepping-stone or given the office by another political appointee," said Claeys in a written statement.
Ensley said she looked forward to working with Biggs through the next election cycle.
Kobach said he's not worried that the appointment will give Biggs a leg up in the race for the post.
However, he said, he is concerned that Biggs will wield the power of the office through the 2010 election.
Kobach supports stricter photo-ID requirements for voters and advocates for aggressively purging voting rolls, which he says contain thousands of dead people, illegal immigrants and felons.
Thornburgh has strongly disputed Kobach's claims of widespread voting fraud, and Biggs is of a similar mind, once accusing Kobach of pursuing "a radical agenda to politicize" the Secretary of State's Office.