Q&A: Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks campaign for governor, pro-life culture, the Jeep

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Kris Kobach, secretary of state of Kansas and gubernatorial candidate. (Courtesy photo)

You may have seen his campaign signs posted along Anderson Avenue. You may have seen his name in the news. Kris Kobach, current secretary of the state of Kansas and Republican candidate for governor, has made headlines recently for rolling through a parade with a replica gun mounted on a Jeep and for a court ruling of civil contempt. In a brief conversation, Kobach discussed his campaign platforms, strategy and his name in the news.

Rachel Hogan, news editor: “We’re just going to hop right into things. Can you talk about your platforms for your campaign for governor please?”

Kobach: “Sure. One of the most important points is cutting taxes. I’m the only candidate that has signed the no tax increase pledge, and I am committed to reducing our sales tax, our income tax and putting some meaningful lids on property tax increases, which the students won’t necessarily see, but once they own property they’ll get hit with it.

“We are the eighth-highest sales tax in the country right now and that is something that the students see regularly because that’s the form of tax that most of you are paying.

“Another one is ending what I call the culture of corruption in Topeka. Two parts of that is having term limits on legislators, that’s something I believe we need, and making sure that all our committee votes are recorded. We’re one of the very few states that doesn’t have committee votes recorded, so if you wanted to write a story on how some state senator voted, you’d have to go there and sit in the committee room and watcher her lips move to see whether she voted yes or no. That’s ridiculous. You should be able to go online and find out how your legislator voted in committee.

“The third element is actually illegal immigration. I’ve done a lot of work with that in my career. … There are several things that Kansas needs to do. One that is very pertinent to the university community is I believe we must stop giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens because those in-state tuition rates represent a taxpayer subsidy of about $4 million per year. So, if we’re going to subsidize anyone, we shouldn’t be subsidizing illegal aliens. We should be subsidizing Kansas students, people from Kansas. … It encourages people to stay here illegally in the country.

“On the illegal immigration issue, I also think we need to end sanctuary counties and cities in Kansas. … The way I would do that is take away all state money from them and they will quickly change their tune. Stopping illegal immigration in Kansas is something that the Kansas state government should be doing something about, but instead we’re going the opposite direction and giving incentives for illegal immigrants by giving in-state tuition.”

Hogan: “I read an article from the Wichita Eagle that was published recently, and it’s about giving in-state tuition to undocumented students. There’s a quote from that article that says a ‘review of higher education cost data and legislative documents found little to suggest that ending the policy would make a significant difference’ regarding tuition increases. It went on to say that there are only 670 illegal students in Kansas universities, and that’s 0.37 percent of the students. It also says that it would only save about $2.3 million.”

Kobach: “I disagree with the 2.3 number. The 670 number is correct. There’s no question that the amount of money, whether it’s 2.3 million or 4 million, isn’t going to end tuition hikes. … I’ve never claimed it would end all tuition hikes, but I think it’s a perfect example of a bad policy that shows the state’s priorities are in the wrong place.”

Hogan: If that won’t solve the problem completely, what else do you think should be done?

Kobach: “I think there needs to be an evaluation. … We don’t have the massive tuition hikes that neighboring states do, that the private universities do. If we can solve that problem and look for ways to not increase tuition then I think, suddenly, K-State becomes even more popular as a school for out-of-state students to attend because maybe we can guarantee whatever tuition you come in at, that’s what it’s going to be for the four years here. …

“Another thing I think we could try doing is something we did at UMKC when I was a professor there, and what we did is, you have regional tuition rates. What that is, you allow the Kansas City metro area to go to UMKC at in-state rates. We could do something similar with the Kansas regent’s schools where maybe if you come from the five-state area, you don’t get in-state tuition but you get something between in and out-of-state.

“Now, what effect does that have on the university? It probably means the university will have to avoid really expensive extravagant expenses. … And I think, also, universities tend to be a little administrator heavy, and this is everywhere.”

“The administrators are hired at a six-figure salary. They are paid as much or more than our professors. It’s unclear what they add, and the students have to remember that’s what their tuition is paying for.”

Hogan: I looked at your website. There’s the issue of life: “protect, preserve the culture of life in Kansas.” How would you describe that culture of life that we have in this state?

Kobach: “Well, Kansas is a pro-life state. We have seen some real improvements. I think one thing governor Brownback deserves credit for is signing and advocating for pro-life legislation, and we did get that done and I think most people can agree that we are now in the top 10 concerning our statutes being pro-life.

“But we are in a precarious position right now because the state supreme court is going to be issuing a ruling that, as I see it, looks like it will go the wrong way and they’re going to invent an invisible right to abortion in the Kansas constitution. If they do that, I will be leading the charge for a constitutional amendment to make clear that there is no unwritten right to abortion in the Kansas constitution.”

Hogan: Of course, I’m going to talk about the Jeep thing. I can’t not ask about that. Was that a rental, or is that something you own?

Kobach: “My friend owns it. He showed it to me and I said, ‘Woah, that is a really cool Jeep. Can I use it in some parades?’ … It’s just an incredible parade vehicle. It’s just so patriotic. The vehicle is patriotism on steroids. …

“When I was in the parade at Old Shawnee Day, the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive. I’ve ridden in dozens of different vehicles in parades and never have I gotten such a positive audience reaction. I mean like, people taking pictures, thumbs up, clapping. Contrary to what some people on the far left said, ‘Oh, kids would be scared of seeing that gun.’ Kids aren’t scared seeing an inanimate object mounted on the back of a vehicle.”

Hogan: I haven’t seen pictures of the vehicle, but I have read descriptions of it. It seems to me like a caricature of Republicanism. How would you respond to that?

Kobach: “I would agree that it is symbolic of things that the Republican party likes. For example, it symbolizes three things. It symbolizes the US military because it’s got a military type vehicle, a Jeep, with an iconic military gun. It symbolizes the Second Amendment, in fact it’s even got the Second Amendment written on the back of it. And it symbolizes American strength, right, because you’ve got this American flag … and the left doesn’t like any of those three things. They don’t like the Second Amendment, they don’t like the U.S. military and they don’t like American strength, especially in the era of Trump where he’s pushing American power aggressively and, I believe, successfully.

“It’s the kind of thing Republicans are more likely to enjoy than Democrats, but there are lots of Democrats in Kansas who are very pro-military, who believe in the Second Amendment, and who like the idea of American strength. It’s not that it’s just a Republican thing, it’s a patriotic thing, and ultimately patriotism is an important part of parades.”

Hogan: Driving around town, the only campaign signs that I’ve seen have been yours. There are a couple big ones on Anderson. They’re very large. I was surprised to see that you were the first candidate, that I’ve seen, to make a dent in the college town demographic. Do you feel like you have to work harder to reach the younger people of Kansas?

Kobach: “I think that there are a lot of people on college campuses who are Republican and because of the peer pressure on a college campus sometimes they may not talk about their politics because they’re gonna feel like they’re in the minority. I think it’s important to campaign in college towns.

“Anyway, especially in a college town like Manhattan, where the surrounding town might be left of center compared to other Kansas towns, but still has a lot of Republicans in it, absolutely. I’m campaigning actively here and will continue to do so. Lawrence is a different story. Lawrence is way to the left, so it’s not as useful for a Republican to campaign a lot of the time in Lawrence.”

Hogan: Now, the court case. The contempt.

Kobach: “That is a case about proof of citizen when you register to vote that is part of a statute that I drafted when I came into office. It was passed. The ACLU does not like proof of citizenship. They are attacking Kansas for that reason. It’s civil contempt, which is different than criminal contempt.”

Hogan: In the articles I’ve read, I only see “contempt.” No distinguishing between civil and criminal.

Kobach: “Criminal content is if someone shouts at the judge or throws something at the bailiff and then they’re penalized for their behavior. Civil contempt is about forcing compliance with court orders. It’s what a judge will impose on one party to make sure they comply with the orders.

“In that case, the judge had issued a court order … asking that voters in Kansas who registered at the DMV but had not yet proven their citizenship, that they receive certain notices in the mail. We did ask the counties to send these notices to the voters. The counties are the ones who do the corresponding, not my office. … Some of the counties did comply and some didn’t. The judge basically held my office responsible for the counties that didn’t. One of the reasons we believe the judge’s ruling was wrong is that the county clerks are not my employees. I can’t control them.”

Hogan: Do you think the word contempt in those headlines damages your campaign at all?

Kobach: “Oh definitely. I’m pretty sure that my opponents will misleadingly use that issue and try to create the false impression that somehow I did something in court that was dishonorable or incompetent or whatever, and that’s not true at all. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in politics who will lie. I have learned that over my career. I don’t do it. I know that others do. I have a fear that you will see them in some advertisements and it will be misleading.”

Hogan: Why should a K-State student vote for you?

Kobach: “They should vote for me because I’m taking the problem of college tuition increases very seriously and have proposed very specific things to deal with it, and one of them is stopping spending those dollars on illegal aliens when they should be spent on Kansas kids, on Kansas students. The other is, with me, you know what you get. I do what I say I’m gonna do. A lot of politicians, they won’t give direct answers, and even if you do get a direct answer they won’t do what they said they’re going to do. They’re just not committed to achieving certain goals. With me, you’re gonna get what you see. If I say I’m gonna do these things, I’m going to do them.”

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Rachel Hogan
I'm Rachel Hogan, news editor at the Collegian. I'm a sophomore in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I'm not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time taking naps, playing the cello and laughing with my friends.