Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
This year, there will be lots of downballot elections that are interesting, but not that important.
I'm curious how Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will do, since his election will be something of a referendum on the Franken-Coleman recount, but I couldn't tell you what Ritchie has been up to in office since then. I'm curious whether former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine will be elected attorney general of Ohio (it's not every day that a former senator runs for a downballot state office), but the substantive importance of Attorney General DeWine versus Attorney General Richard Cordray is open for debate.
Then, there's the race for Kansas Secretary of State. Kris Kobach, the best-known Republican candidate, is someone who could make national waves if he's elected. In fact, he's making national waves before he gets elected.
Kobach is an immigration attorney and former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. The Arizona Republic described him as the true architect of SB 1070, Arizona's controversial new immigration law. He's also the architect of an immigration proposal in Fremont, Nebraska that is getting national attention. While he's doing all that, Kobach also is running for secretary of state in Kansas and, of course, stressing immigration-related issues.
The most prominent role of the secretary of state is administer elections, so for Kobach that means voter fraud. From the Topeka Capital-Journal:
The former Kansas GOP chairman and immigration attorney is making voter fraud his central campaign theme. He wants new requirements placed on registering to vote and casting ballots, similar to the laws he helped write in Arizona.
"Kansas voters have a very clear choice," Kobach said. "I am confident they will agree with me that now is the time to restore the integrity of Kansas elections."
Kobach says he will be aggressive in prosecuting cases of voter fraud, doing the investigative work and taking them to the attorney general for charges to be filed.
Secretary of State is one of a trifecta of downballot races where Democrats have incumbents who were appointed, rather than elected, to the offices they currently hold (along with attorney general and treasurer). Gov. Mark Parkinson appointed Democrat Chris Biggs in March.
If Kobach beats Biggs, he could be to immigration what former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline was to abortion or what Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli is to, well, everything: Someone who uses his office to aggressively push conservative ideas on the issues he cares about most.
But, Kline does offer a cautionary tale to Kobach. My impression is that many -- perhaps most -- Kansans agreed with Kline's pro-life views. Still, they didn't like that he spent so much time focused on an ideologically divisive topic. Kline lost badly when he ran for reelection in 2006. It's no coincidence that Biggs' campaign site says this prominently on the home page:
The Office of Kansas Secretary of State performs many public service functions and plays a vital role in maintaining the fairness and credibility of our elections. The Office should NOT be politicized for a partisan agenda.
Kobach's views on immigration probably are popular in Kansas. And, 2010 is very different from 2006. Nonetheless, to win, Kobach probably will need to reassure voters that he cares about more than just one hot-button topic.
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