The defining political contest of 2010 in Kansas may not be for governor, Congress or even attorney general but, of all things, secretary of state. Suddenly, a job sometimes viewed as one of bookkeeping is a hot property. At the center of attention is Kris Kobach, the University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write Arizona's controversial ID-check law.
Kobach isn't the only Republican trying to wrest the job from Secretary of State Chris Biggs, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Parkinson upon the resignation earlier this year of longtime Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.
Shawnee County Elections Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley and Salina resident J.R. Claeys also are in the GOP primary. On Aug. 3, Democrats will choose between Biggs, formerly Kansas securities commissioner and Geary County attorney, and state Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City.
But Kobach is setting the agenda for the race. If he wins, he's sure to make the office serve his personal quest against voter fraud and illegal immigration. "I would be transforming the model somewhat," he said this week, "from a ministerial model to more of a law enforcement model."
But voter fraud is not a big problem in Kansas, no doubt because it's a felony that carries harsh punishment and offers no personal financial gain.
And if Kobach wants to be in law enforcement, he should be running for attorney general or district attorney.
Kobach also wants a Kansas law like Arizona's ID-check legislation, as well as immigration-related measures on hiring and voting.
"Every state is a border state now," he said last week.
It's one thing to vow to promote voting and safeguard the integrity of the state's elections, as well as to streamline the operations of the Secretary of State's Office and improve services to the small businesses that rely on it. All candidates for the job pledge to do those things. It's something else entirely to try to redesign the statewide office around a narrow ideological agenda — something Kansans recently experienced during the term of anti-abortion crusading Attorney General Phill Kline.
Voters also should hold Kobach accountable for his troubled chairmanship of the Kansas Republican Party in 2007 and 2008. When a preliminary Federal Election Commission report this week revealed appalling problems with accounting and recordkeeping, Kobach tried to deflect blame for all but a "very bad hiring choice."
But like the baggage of his immigration work, his past executive experience, including hiring, is relevant to his campaign.
As today's candidate filing deadline gives way to the summer and fall campaigns, Kansas voters will need to watch this contest closely and vote with care.