Opinion Columns & Blogs

Steve Kraske: Will immigration issue help Kobach?

When Republican Kris Kobach ran for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District in 2004, he did so at least partly on the wings of his tough anti-immigration stance.

His focus on the issue seemed at odds with his would-be eastern Kansas constituents, who lived far removed from much of the immigration turmoil.

Maybe not surprisingly, he lost 55 to 43 percent to Democrat Dennis Moore. At the time, it was Moore's biggest win.

This year is a very different time, and Kobach is running for a very different office. He is a candidate for secretary of state, where voters from the Colorado line to the Missouri line will size him up.

And once again, he is smack in the midst of the latest dust storm around immigration.

It recently came to light that Kobach, a University of Missouri at Kansas City law professor, had a big hand in the drafting of the tough Arizona law that's drawing raves and catcalls from all over the nation.

The law would require police officers who have a "reasonable suspicion" that a person is in the country illegally to verify the person's status.

Opponents have screamed foul, arguing the new law will lead to new rounds of racial profiling.

But Kobach spent last week vigorously defending it — on CNN and "The O'Reilly Factor" and in the New York Times.

"The Arizona law hardly creates a police state," Kobach wrote in the Times. "It takes a measured, reasonable step to give Arizona police officers another tool when they come into contact with illegal aliens."

How will all this play here?

The Democratic Party brought down its not-so-considerable hammer by citing a news story in which Kobach said that if elected he would help draw up a similar bill in Kansas, only if asked by a lawmaker and if he had time.

"Kris Kobach would bring Arizona law to Kansas," Democrats declared.

Kobach doesn't think immigration will play into his campaign. He said he doesn't talk about immigration as he makes his way around the state, except for his call to require people to document their citizenship when registering to vote.

If elected, Kobach said he would continue to consult on immigration issues "as time permits." He also said he would continue his work on court cases involving immigration that he's already involved in, because to abandon them would be unethical.

One Democratic candidate, Chris Biggs, said immigration is important, but is not the focus of the secretary of state. "If you want to address immigration, go run for Congress. I guess he already tried that," said Biggs, currently interim secretary of state.

The issue continues to kick around Washington, D.C., which means Kobach will remain in the news. It's destined to raise his profile in parts of the state where he's little-known.

And voters in western Kansas might be open to Arizona's approach.

But Kansans have a history of electing safe, low-key secretaries of state — most recently Bill Graves and Ron Thornburgh. Kobach is anything but subdued.

The issue didn't work for him in 2004. This time may be no different.