LENEXA, KANSAS — Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded to Secretary of State Kris Kobach Tuesday, a week after their tightly contested primary. Now, Kobach will become Kansas’ next governor — giving him a more prominent platform to spread his anti-immigrant, anti-voter agenda — unless Democrat Laura Kelly can stop him.
Last Monday, ahead of the primary, the current state senator was not yet feeling the pressure. After chatting with a few dozen, mostly older voters in a coffee shop in Lenexa, Kansas, the Democratic candidate told ThinkProgress she thinks she can win November’s general election, no matter who she goes up against.
“I’m confident I can beat any one of them,” she said about Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer, who lost the primary by just about 345 votes. “Ideologically, those two guys are very similar… I think I can handle either one of them.”
Kobach and Kelly disagree on pretty much every issue. Kobach wants to cut taxes, while Kelly frequently highlights how that experiment under former Gov. Sam Brownback (R) devastated the state. Kobach has been driving around the state with a replica machine gun on his Jeep, while Kelly has just a 7 percent rating from the National Rifle Association.
ThinkProgress sat down with Kelly to hear more about her efforts to swing Kansas’ executive office back to Democrats.
You’ve said that as governor, you’d work to make voting easier in Kansas. What do you think about how Kobach has used his position as secretary of state as a pulpit to spread a message about voter fraud?
He’s clearly abused the position that he’s had as secretary of state. That should be someone who’s focused like a laser on our election processes and our business center and the kinds of things that a secretary of state is supposed to be doing. Kobach clearly used that position as a platform to create a national image for himself. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s been costly not only for the state of Kansas but also the small communities where he went in and offered his services and left them in the lurch. So I would hope that as we go forward, future statewide elected officers stay in town and devote full-time to them and not use the position as a springboard for national attention.
You voted in favor of Kansas’ documentary proof of citizenship law, which passed in 2011 and required voters to show a passport, birth certificate, or other proof of citizenship when they registered to vote. Was that a decision you made because of fears of fraudulent voters?
No, absolutely not. We were sort of faced with the lesser of two evils, at that particular point. You’ll notice that a lot of Democrats voted for a bill that we would ordinarily would adamantly oppose, but we were just faced with the lesser of two evils. When we voted for that one, we had no idea how abusive Kris Kobach would be. But we also thought that real ID would be established in Kansas and that the citizenship issue would be taken care of when people went in to get their driver’s license. When that didn’t happen, we then cosponsored a bill — I did — in 2016 to repeal the citizenship requirement.
If you were governor and had the votes in the legislature, would you repeal the law?
Yeah, I would. But it’s been ruled unconstitutional so it’s a moot point right now, and hopefully it’ll stay that way. Kobach will be gone as our secretary of state and I, as the governor, am not going to pursue an appeal on that ruling. …Particularly if we had a Democratic secretary of state, we would work on getting it off the books rather than appealing it.
You and the other Democrats in the primary disagreed somewhat on abortion. Why was it important for you to highlight your support for reproductive choice?
I have a very strong women’s rights record, which I think is probably imperative and I think people recognize how imperative it is with the retirement of Justice Kennedy. There is that possibility, maybe probability, that Roe v. Wade will be coming back to the states. It’s more important than ever that we have a strong women’s reproductive rights governor who will work with the legislature to ensure that we retain those rights in the state.
You’ve said that in the past, you went too far on expanding gun rights. [Kelly voted on multiple occasions to expand the ability of people to carry weapons.] What changed your mind?
You know, what really did it was a conversation I was having at Washburn University, which is a university in my hometown of Topeka, with faculty, staff, and I believe a few students. This was before the guns on campus went into effect, because we had a four-year window there from when we passed it to when they had to enact it on campus. So this was just before that July 1st. We talked long and hard about the issue and it became clear to me that this did go too far. Their biggest concern was about suicide and the availability of guns on campus when you have kids who are often in stressful situation, away from home, and might contemplate suicide. Having guns readily available doesn’t allow them to get over that impulse. I thought about that, and I have a background in mental health, so it really resonated with me and that’s when I realized that we had to reinstate gun sense policy in the state of Kansas.