Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer launched several attacks on Saturday against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who in turn accused the governor of dishonesty.
The fight marked a new, meaner phase in the Republican race for governor.
Colyer went after Kobach’s record on abortion and spending and said Kobach had sought a pardon for a campaign donor. Kobach said Colyer was lying and accused him of repeated deceptions.
The exchanges came during a boisterous debate among several Republican candidates for governor in Salina. The candidates have less than two months to win over voters before the Aug. 7 primary election.
Before Saturday, Colyer had often declined to attack Kobach directly. But during the debate, Colyer made comment after comment about his Republican rival.
Colyer charged that Kobach “wants you to pay for his court fines” after he used a state-issued credit card to pay a penalty for misleading the court in a federal lawsuit over Kansas’ proof of citizenship voter registration law.
Kobach said Colyer is “desperate, he’s attacking” and was being dishonest about Kobach’s record.
The fight between the two men started early, with Colyer saying in his opening statement that Kobach had once described himself as pro-choice.
“You need a governor who is pro-life and will always tell you the truth,” Colyer said.
Kobach described his views on abortion as pro-choice in 2000 on a Kansas City Star questionnaire during his run for state Senate. In 2004, he said at a candidate forum he had never been pro-choice before telling the newspaper a few days later his views had evolved.
On Saturday, Kobach said he didn’t know where Colyer had gotten his information. He said seeing the sonogram of his first child had changed his views on abortion, which he said had previously included thinking there were some exceptions where abortion was OK, though he didn't name those.
“I realized there are no exceptions,” Kobach said.
This week, Kobach announced he has been endorsed by Kansans for Life. “KFL knows I am 100 percent pro-life,” Kobach said Saturday.
He shared the news ahead of the organization, which also endorsed Colyer. KFL said Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer is pro-life, but did not endorse him.
Kobach said he would shrink government by not filling positions as state employees retire, though he said he would except law enforcement. He also said he supports consolidating services among school districts.
He promised an executive order to require state agencies and contractors to use E-Verify to ensure undocumented immigrants are not working for the state.
He promised Kansas contractors “will not spend one dollar of Kansas taxpayer money paying the salary of someone in this country illegally.” He said he is the only candidate who has taken action to fight illegal immigration.
"If you want a Republican governor who will maintain the status quo, who will not rock the boat, who will not threaten the establishment, then I would say you have plenty of other choices on this stage and you should not vote for me," Kobach said.
Colyer challenged Kobach’s financial record and the two men feuded over Kobach’s management of the budget of the secretary of state’s office. Kobach has said he cut the office’s budget from $7 million to $4.7 million.
Colyer said Kobach had been able to cut the size of his office’s budget largely because of a loss of federal funds. Kobach said that wasn’t the case and that his office still has more than $3 million in federal funds.
Kobach said Colyer was either “ignorant or intentionally misleading” the audience.
“I believe that one should not bear false witness against one’s neighbor,” Kobach said.
During closing statements, Colyer said Kobach had sought a pardon for the vice president of a corporate donor.
“There are two types of horses: show ponies and work horses,” Colyer said, summing up his arguments against Kobach.
Kobach said Colyer not only “tells lies about me, he tells lies about other people.” He added that he would be a “war horse.”
Kobach approached then-GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief counsel about clemency for Kansas City-area resident Ryan Bader in August 2017, the Associated Press reported this week. Bader is vice president and treasurer of TriStar Arms, his family’s Kansas City, Missouri, firearms import and wholesale business.
It has donated a total of at least $7,000 to Kobach in the past five years, including the maximum $2,000 allowed to Kobach’s campaign for governor in December, according to campaign finance records.
Bader was accused of temporarily taking a cellphone from a cab driver who took him to his home in suburban Overland Park after a St. Patrick’s Day round of drinking in a Kansas City, Missouri, bar district. An affidavit from an Overland Park officer, based on information from other officers, said the cab driver reported that Bader failed to pay his full fare and put a gun to the cab driver’s head, threatening to kill him if he called police.
Kobach said Bader had been accused of using a gun and that a judge had found no firearm was used. That contention is based on a sentencing form where the judge marked that the crime had not been committed with a deadly weapon.
The two other candidates on stage, Selzer and “entrepreneurial evangelist” Patrick Kucera, largely stayed out of the crossfire.
Selzer promised he would “lean in on costs” in an effort to make government work more efficiently. He sought to differentiate himself from the other candidates by focusing on transparency, and noted he is the only candidate in the race who has released tax returns.
He indirectly referenced the number of no-bid contracts Kansas has entered into over the past several years. Records show the state has sought more than 1,000 no-bid contracts.
“We are going to lead with transparency. And I can tell you, you will never, ever have a transparent state, transparent organization, transparent contract development — like we haven’t had — all of those things, you’ll never have that if the leader isn’t fully transparent himself,” Selzer said.
Kucera called for Kansas to take a new approach to government that would be focused on the entrepreneurial spirit. He likened himself to President Donald Trump, saying he will shake up Topeka.
“I believe history will show that Donald Trump was the greatest, if not one of these greatest presidents in the history of the United States of America,” Kucera said.