The Kansas Republican Party called on former Democratic lawmaker Paul Davis on Tuesday to withdraw as an attorney from a lawsuit against Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
The case has generated strong political commentary from all sides. Both Davis and Kobach have been frequently cited by Kansas politicos as potential candidates for governor in 2018.
Davis is one of two attorneys representing prospective voters suing Kobach in federal court over a new rule that will remove them from the state’s suspended voter list if they fail to provide proof of citizenship after 90 days.
The GOP cites a statute that forbids lawmakers from going to court to attack legislation as unconstitutional for up to a year after they leave office, unless a lawmaker voted against the bill and declared on the record that it was unconstitutional.
Davis left office at the start of this year, after mounting an unsuccessful campaign for governor. He voted for the proof of citizenship requirement as a member of the Kansas House in 2011.
The 90-day rule, which took effect Friday, is the impetus for the lawsuit, but Davis’ suit also attacks the proof-of-citizenship requirement as a whole.
“Paul Davis’ unseemly political grandstanding is bad enough; his hypocrisy in challenging a law he voted for is breathtaking; but his apparent illegal conduct is most troubling. He needs to immediately withdraw from the voter registration case,” state GOP chair Kelly Arnold said in a news release.
The party’s executive director, Clay Barker, said in a phone call that the statute lacks an enforcement mechanism and that the party has no immediate plans to bring action against Davis other than calling attention to the matter.
Barker said a number of legislators had complained to him about the matter, which prompted the news release. He said he sent it to Kobach in advance as a courtesy.
Davis said the statute does not apply in this case.
“These guys need to talk to some lawyers because clearly they do not understand the law,” Davis said in a phone call.
The statute says that the lawmaker cannot cite an “error in the legislative process” as the reason the legislative action is unconstitutional. He said he has made no such claim and that he has no plans to withdraw from the case.
“Our clients want to press forward with this case and that’s what we fully intend to do,” he said.
Both parties have been vocal about the case. Minutes after Davis filed it last week, the Kansas Democratic Party sent out a news release attacking Kobach. In each case, the messaging resembles the rhetoric of a political campaign. Neither Kobach or Davis has said he is running.
“I ran for governor and I lost. And I’m not a candidate for any political office,” Davis said. “I’m an attorney who is representing a client.”
Applicants or voters
Also Tuesday, a Republican state senator fired back at the critics of the new rule, saying the uproar is unfounded.
In fact, said Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, the controversy arose because the rule, which discards incomplete voter registrations after 90 days, is too lenient.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Fitzgerald said at a legislative committee meeting in Topeka.
Voter applications without proof-of-citizenship documents, as required by state law, could have been discarded immediately, he said.
Fitzgerald asked state elections director Bryan Caskey how long it takes to fill out a new application.
“I would give you conservatively a minute,” Caskey said.
The discussion came up at a meeting about new legislation that shifts municipal elections from April to November starting in 2017.
With Caskey at the podium on that topic, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat, asked him about the 90-day rule, referencing the removal of “voters.”
Caskey replied that the applicant list, which has grown to more than 30,000 names, contains only applicants, not voters.
Many of the voting applications are missing proof-of-citizenship documents such as a birth certificate or passport, and some are missing other information or a signature.
“No one on the list is a registered voter,” Caskey said.
The applications are kept because voters signing registration forms at events and other venues could very well not have proof-of-citizenship documents with them, Caskey said.
Contributing: Edward M. Eveld of The Kansas City Star