Politics & Government

Greg Orman still in Kansas race for governor after board rejects challenge

Independent Greg Orman remains in the Kansas race for governor after a state board rejected a Democratic challenge to his candidacy.

The decision likely ensures a three-way race between Orman, Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly and Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Some Democrats believe Orman, a Johnson County businessman, will draw votes away from Kelly and ease Kobach’s path to victory.

Democratic attorney Will Lawrence had initially sought to invalidate more than 6,000 signatures on the petition Orman submitted to secure his spot on the November ballot. From the start, he faced an uphill climb: Orman submitted more than 10,000 signatures, with more than 7,000 validated. Kansas law requires 5,000.

In the end, Lawrence successfully got 323 signatures thrown out.

The State Objections Board – made up of the lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state – met for several hours Thursday to consider the challenge. The board members, all Republican, sent proxies, who sifted through 19 exhibits submitted by Lawrence to cast doubt on Orman’s signatures.

Orman said he was expecting the Objections Board to reject the challenge. He said his campaign turned in more than enough signatures before the deadline and the state can’t toss those signatures because counties took more time than allowed to count them.

“We’ve always expected that we’re going to be on the ballot in November,” Orman said Wednesday evening. “So we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re going to continue to travel the state of Kansas, we’re going to talk to fellow Kansans about issues that matter to them (and) share our vision for the state.”

He said he understands why the counties had problems. Their election offices were swamped counting and confirming the votes in the extremely close Republican governor primary that Kris Kobach ultimately won by only 350 votes over Gov. Jeff Colyer.

But he had harsh criticism for Democratic leaders for challenging his petition, saying they purport to be for fair elections but then filed a “frivolous” complaint to try to disenfranchise Orman supporters.

Orman’s candidacy could still face a challenge in court. On Thursday, Lawrence’s attorney wouldn’t say whether Lawrence will sue, but Tim Phillips, Orman’s campaign manager, said he anticipates a lawsuit being filed against Orman.

Kelly’s campaign has declined to comment on the petition challenge. Lawrence, who filed the challenge, is the chief of staff to Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley, a close ally of Kelly.

The other independent candidate for governor, Topeka pastor Rick Kloos, noted that he submitted more than 8,000 signatures without an objection raised against him.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Kobach said he doesn’t have a preference on whether Orman remains on the ballot. He has described Kelly and Orman as both liberal candidates.

Kobach sent longtime deputy Eric Rucker to represent him on the board. Lawrence’s attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, began the hearing by arguing Rucker shouldn’t sit on the board because of his close relationship to Kobach. The board noted the objection and moved on.

Lawrence’s objection originally centered on more than 6,000 signatures he said should be thrown out because several counties missed a legal deadline to validate them. Soon after the hearing began, Irigonegaray dropped the objection indicating they had come to no longer believe in it.

But Lawrence and Irigonegaray continued to allege some petition circulators had gathered signatures at a potentially impossible fast rate. They also said they had been unable to make contacts with several petition circulators from out of state and said their addresses appeared to be invalid.

In total, Lawrence and Irigonegaray raised doubts about some 3,500 signatures.

“We have supplied what I believe is prima facie evidence of a number of allegations that create a disturbing pattern that needs to be further evaluated to ensure that the election process in this state is fair,” Irigonegaray said.

In a hearing that stretched throughout the day, the board members at times dived into the weeds of the law as they decided which signatures to accept and which to throw out.

At one point, Brant Laue, Colyer’s chief counsel who represented the lieutenant governor’s office, floated the possibility of bringing in some of Orman’s petition circulators for questioning. That would have delayed a decision for at least several days, if not weeks.

Lawrence and Irigonegaray pointed to problems with the notarization of some signatures. In each case, the board decided to keep the signatures though board members acknowledged that Kansas notary law appeared to have been violated.

They asked for the board to delay a decision while it investigates their claims.

“In essence, they’re seeking delay. They want to have time to put their case together. They’ve had more than two weeks to do it. It hasn’t been enough time to find what they want to find,” said Mark Johnson, an attorney for Orman, told the board.

Ultimately, the board threw out more than 300 signatures gathered by Kyler Carriker (who also gave the name Kyler Winn in documents) because he is a felon and not qualified to gather signatures. Kansas law requires petition circulators be eligible to register to vote.

In 2015, Carriker was found not guilty of murder in a drug deal. He is the son of Jennifer Winn, who ran against Gov. Sam Brownback in the 2014 Republican primary for governor.