Former Colyer campaign official backs Orman over Kobach

Greg Orman, an independent candidate for governor, with running mate state Sen. John Doll. (File photo, Kansas News Service)

by Stephen Koranda, Kansas News Service

Gov. Jeff Colyer lost a nail-biter Republican primary for governor to Secretary of Kris Kobach and quickly backed the man who beat him.

At least one key member of his campaign, however, moved on Monday to jump ship from the party’s nominee.

Colyer campaign chairman and longtime former Kansas Farm Bureau president Steve Baccus threw his support to independent candidate Greg Orman.

Baccus’ move marks a public defection from Colyer’s efforts to rally party regulars behind Kobach, and it’s a strategy to bring Colyer supporters to the Orman campaign.

“I made it clear when I joined Gov. Colyer’s campaign,” Baccus said in a statement, “that I believed Kansas needed a leader who was committed to the state.”

Baccus cited Orman’s business experience and the agricultural roots of his running mate, state Sen. John Doll.

Kobach is outspoken and sometimes controversial, billing himself as a “full-throttled conservative.”

Orman said he’s hoping to build a wide coalition, and he’s working to attract Republicans who are put off by what he calls Kobach’s “extreme” policies.

“I hope that all Kansans who are concerned about those policies take a hard look at my campaign,” Orman said in a phone interview. “I think when they do, they’ll realize that we are the best choice to move the state of Kansas forward.”

Baccus and Orman were campaigning Monday after the announcement. Baccus said his decision was driven by policies, not Kobach’s style.

“I’ve been involved with politics long enough that I prefer not to get personal about it,” Baccus said in a phone interview. “If you’re worried about where this state is, worried about rural Kansas, take a look at Greg Orman.”

The Kansas Farm Bureau endorsed Colyer in the primary but has not yet backed anyone in the general election.

Colyer came out in support of Kobach after the primary and he doubled down on that Monday.

“While Steve can certainly campaign for whoever he likes,” Colyer said in a statement, “I have made my support for Republican candidate Kris Kobach very clear and encourage all Republicans to rally around our nominee.”

Kobach characterized the endorsement as political insiders sticking together.

“Our campaign to fight special interests, bring good-paying jobs to hard-working Kansans, and fix Topeka is not going to be popular with the special-interest crowd,” he said. “I’m OK with that.”

Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly rounds out the high-profile candidates in the race for Kansas governor.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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Democrats challenging for Kansas Congressional seats wary of Trump impeachment talk

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Plenty of pundits are speculating that a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House would trigger impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

But the Democrats attempting to flip three Republican-held congressional districts in Kansas aren’t at all eager to talk about the issue.

Paul Davis, Sharice Davids and James Thompson — Democrats running in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Congressional districts — haven’t hesitated to criticize the president for championing tax cuts they charge mainly benefited wealthy Americans and corporations, or the tariffs Trump imposed over objections from Kansas farmers.

But they’ve had relatively little to say about recent revelations concerning the president’s involvement in illegal hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with him.

And what they have said echoes the talking points of cautious Republicans.

“You know, we have a special prosecutor who is widely respected by Republicans and Democrats and I think we’ve got to see what he’s going to present and let him do his job,” said Paul Davis, the former minority leader in the Kansas House now running for the open seat in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

Compare that to what U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said to reporters when pressed on the issue this week.

“I’m not saying (the latest developments are) not serious. I just don’t believe we’re going to know enough until Mueller issues his report,” Graham said, referring, like Davis, to the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, from Missouri, recently used similar talking points in dispatching impeachment questions.

“There’s a respected federal prosecutor running an investigation and everybody should leave him alone and let him finish his work. That’s all I’ve got to say about that,” said McCaskill, who is facing a strong challenge from Republican Josh Hawley.

Ten other Democrats locked in tight Senate races have said nothing on the impeachment issue, according to a Thursday story from McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., bureau.

Davis, who won the 2nd District while narrowly losing a 2014 bid to unseat then Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, is more emphatic when talking about the need to protect the Mueller investigation.

While he has concerns about Republicans unwillingness so far to “speak up,” Davis said he believes they would join with Democrats in stopping any attempt by the president to impede or end the inquiry.

“I think that is a pressure point when you’re going to see a bipartisan backlash,” Davis said.

Steve Watkins, the political newcomer who won a crowded race for the GOP nomination in the 2nd District, remains firmly behind the president. He said he would vote against impeachment and challenged Davis to take a definitive stand on the issue.

“It’s time for Davis to answer on the record because right now,” Watkins said in an email to the Kansas News Service. “Second District voters deserve to know if Paul Davis will vote to impeach President Trump.”

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, Trump’s exiled senior strategist, is using the issue to energize Republicans.

In a midweek interview with Bloomberg News, Bannon called the midterm election “a referendum on impeachment.”

“Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program,” he said.

Earlier this month, Davids, the Democrat attempting to unseat 4-term Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District, said she wanted to see whether Mueller’s investigation and those being conducted by congressional committees turned up “definitive evidence” that impeachment was warranted.

Thompson, the Democratic civil rights attorney challenging first-term Republican Congressman Ron Estes in the 4th District, said impeachment “is a legal question and not a political one.”

“We must make sure to look at the evidence and hear the testimony before making any judgment,” he said. “Our nation is built upon the foundation of innocence until proven guilty and I would not feel comfortable making a judgement one way or another until I could see these things.”

Thompson lost a closer-than-expected race to Estes in 2016 to fill the Wichita-area seat vacated by Mike Pompeo when he joined the Trump administration as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Pompeo is now the U.S. secretary of state.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a statewide collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.
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Voter turnout in primary one of the highest for midterms in Wyandotte County memory

The Wyandotte County Board of Canvassers met today to certify election results. No election outcomes changed. Election Commissioner Bruce Newby said turnout was the highest he could remember for a midterm primary election.

by Mary Rupert

Voter turnout in the primary election came in at 25.29 percent, the highest voter turnout in a midterm primary election here that Election Commissioner Bruce Newby can remember.

He attributed the higher turnout to voter interest in the contested races on the ballot this year, including the Democratic ballot’s governor contest, 3rd District House contest and the local race for judge, as well as to the Republican ballot’s governor contest.

Earlier estimates for voter turnout were 15 to 18 percent here. Newby said his records only go back to 1996, and it’s possible that the Aug. 7 turnout was higher than some of the midterms before then, as well.

While 25 percent is a good turnout for a midterm primary, the other 75 percent of the registered voters who didn’t vote causes him concern, Newby said.

“When people don’t vote, it ceases to be a government of the people,” he said. Those who don’t vote are letting one out of every four registered voters decide for them, he added.

Newby said with the amount of interest in the governor’s contest and other contests, the general election could see a 45 to 50 percent turnout, although that could be ambitious.

“Historically, it’s been under 40 percent,” Newby said.

The governor’s contest is shaping up to be a three-way race among Kris Kobach for the Republicans, Laura Kelly for the Democrats and Greg Orman, an independent. Orman’s petition has been verified in Wyandotte County, he said. Petitions with more than 10,000 signatures have been submitted in Topeka, and are awaiting approval at the state level, he said.

Election results were certified as official this morning by the Board of Canvassers meeting at the election office at 850 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas. No election outcomes changed here.

The canvass meeting today lacked the drama that was seen on Monday in Johnson County and Sedgwick County, where the numbers of provisional votes were in the thousands and results affected a very close Republican governor’s race between incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer and challenger Kris Kobach. After those results came in from provisional ballots in Johnson and Sedgwick counties, Colyer conceded the race on Tuesday evening.

In Wyandotte County, Kobach received 30 more votes today while Colyer picked up 18 more. Newby said that Colyer knew on Tuesday there were not enough votes left to count in Wyandotte County and other counties that would change the outcome of the election. The official total in Wyandotte County was 2,824 for Kobach and 1,598 for Colyer.

While Wyandotte County had over 400 provisional ballots considered today, a little over 260 votes were added to the official total here. A little over 160 provisional ballots were not counted.

Newby today praised his staff, saying that there were many mistakes reported in other counties, but “we got it right here.”

Newby went over the categories of provisional ballots, explaining the circumstances to the Board of Canvassers, which today included five Unified Government commissioners, as well as others.

For the most part, some of those who voted provisional ballots seemed a bit confused, going to the wrong polling place or voting at the wrong precinct after changing their address, and those ballots were counted. But state representative votes were eliminated if the voter cast a ballot for the wrong district.

Six people were couples in households who signed each other’s mail ballot envelope by mistake, and the Board of Canvassers agreed to count those votes today.

One 68-year-old person voted twice, once by mail and once in person at the polling place, the election commissioner said, and one ballot was not counted.

The only item where the Board of Canvassers reversed the election commissioner’s recommendation was where two voters voted a question-only ballot, then they decided they also wanted to vote a party ballot. The election commissioner had recommended only counting the question-only ballot because that is the first ballot the voters requested. However, the Board of Canvassers decided to count the votes on the other ballot as well, but only counting one sales tax vote per person.

The largest category of votes that were denied, 66 votes in all, was from voters who were not registered to vote. Twenty ballots were not counted because the voters did not sign the affidavit.

Also not counted were 43 Democratic voters who tried to vote a Republican ballot, 14 Republicans who tried to vote a Democratic ballot, one Libertarian who tried to vote a Democratic ballot, and two Libertarians who tried to vote a Republican ballot. Members of parties who want to vote in the other party’s primary must change their party affiliation by June 1, according to the state law.

In addition, one unaffiliated voter who voted a Democratic ballot was not counted because the voter did not affiliate with a party, and two unaffiliated ballots were not counted because they voted a Republican ballot but had affiliated with the Democratic Party. The unaffiliated voters are allowed by law to declare a party at the time of the primary, and vote in that party’s election.

There also was one ballot that was not counted because a Bonner Springs resident voted a sales tax-question only ballot for Kansas City, Kansas.

Three voters failed to provide identification before the voter canvass, and their ballots were not counted. The election office contacts those voters to give them the chance to bring their ID to the election office before the day of the canvass.

Poll workers may have made a mistake on two ballots with the sales tax question, where the voter was at the correct precinct, but was asked to vote a provisional ballot, according to Newby. Those two votes were counted today.

Commissioner Jim Walters asked Newby why voters couldn’t vote at any precinct, instead of just at one precinct, on election day. Newby said there would have to be a change in laws to allow that. In advance voting, only touch screens are used at three voting locations. The touch screen machines will show if a voter has already checked in at another polling place, and they will be able to provide the specific ballot for that voter. It would be very expensive to provide paper ballots at each precinct for every different state representative or other board’s district in the county, according to Newby.

Newby said in answer to a question from Commissioner Tom Burroughs that it was more difficult this year to find polling places. Argentine Recreation Center had other commitments, and the election office had to scramble to find another place that was ADA accessible.

Schools are concerned about the safety of children on election day, and if election day were to become a school holiday, perhaps they might be able to use some school buildings for voting, Newby said. The election office is paying a fee to use buildings for voting, he said, and one price that was sought for one building’s use was $500.

The election office formerly used a Kansas Speedway building for advance voting, but they were told that the building now is being used for other events including Speedway events and American Royal barbecue events, and it is not available any more, he said.

The official vote totals for the three-eighths-cent sales tax question in Kansas City, Kansas, were 10,710 yes to 6,909 no, for 60.79 percent approval.

The official vote totals for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Representative, 3rd District, in Wyandotte County were Brent Welder, 7,641, Sharice Davids, 4,384, Tom Niermann, 1,027, Sylvia D. Williams, 592, Mike McCamon, 494, and Jay Sidie, 314. Davids won the district-wide nomination, when votes were added from Johnson and Miami counties.

Official vote totals for the Wyandotte County District Court judge, Division 5, contest were Tony Martinez, 5,366, Jane Sieve Wilson, 4,789, and Mike Nichols, 3,565.

Provisional votes that were recommended not to count in Wyandotte County.