At a campaign rally in Topeka earlier this month, the tough talk on immigration from Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach was a crowd pleaser.
“We’ve worked on a number of things, but the most important is stopping illegal immigration,” Kobach said to a cheering audience.
Kobach was standing next to President Donald Trump, who had kind words for the Kansas secretary of state, who’s advised the president on immigration and proposed wording for a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
“He is a tireless champion for border security,” Trump said. “He’ll fight for you every single day. He doesn’t stop. He’ll protect your family. He’ll protect your children.”
Kobach’s campaign for governor is one of two hotly contested races in Kansas revealing a divide over immigration policy. In the 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder has rejected the Trump administration’s harshest tactics and rhetoric.
Kobach has made a career out of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment. As secretary of state, he’s pushed for rules to require that people show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. As a private attorney, he worked with cities across the country to help pass ordinances that make hiring or renting to undocumented immigrants unlawful.
At the rally, Kobach warned that immigrants here illegally are a drain on the state’s finances.
“It’s time to put Kansans first, not illegal aliens,” he said. Once again the crowd cheered in approval.
That sentiment plays well with voters who helped Trump win Kansas by a wide margin in 2016. It also plays in rural parts of the state where some people are anxious about immigrants bringing crime.
However, the influential Kansas Farm Bureau couldn’t agree on who to endorse for governor. Rich Felts, the group’s president, said Kobach’s hardline stance on immigration may have factored in the lack of consensus.
And Kobach’s rhetoric may also hurt him with voters in the growing suburbs of Kansas City.
That’s where Rep. Yoder is taking a more moderate tone when it comes to immigration. He’s been endorsed by Trump but didn’t appear at the rally.
Yoder supports Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration and the border wall but has said he’s also willing to work across the aisle.
“I … supported a Democratic plan that would make sure that DACA kids can’t be deported,” Yoder told host Steve Kraske on KCUR’s Up To Date. “I also supported a Democratic plan that would ensure that we can’t separate parents from their children.”
Yoder came to the aid of an Indian woman who lost her legal status in the United States after her husband was murdered in a hate crime in Olathe. Sunayana Dumala has endorsed the congressman in a new ad.
Yoder is clearly trying to win over moderates, but his approach has alienated some further to the right, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham.
Ingraham blasted Yoder for supporting a Democratic plan that would make it easier for migrants fleeing domestic abuse to get asylum in the United States.
“Your family history shouldn’t be allowed to thwart the president’s immigration agenda, and frankly imperil the party’s prospects in the midterms,” she told her television audience.
Yoder eventually backed away from the Democratic plan citing concerns that it would allow millions of people to potentially make fraudulent claims and take advantage of the system.
The 3rd District is increasingly home to wealthy, college-educated people. And it’s skewing more Democratic. Hillary Clinton narrowly won the district in the presidential race two years ago.
“You know, [Yoder] really hasn’t walked away from Trump’s policies,” said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. “Yet he’s attempted to say things or express concern over things like children being detained that might seem more sympathetic to what’s really a swing district that he represents.”
To further demonstrate he’s the centrist in the race, Yoder has tried to make his Democratic challenger, Sharice Davids, seem too radical for his district.
“Certainly, I’ve had moderate people tell me they don’t like the gubernatorial nominee,” Yoder said. “But for the same reason, you shouldn’t like [Sharice Davids] for Kansas.”
He’s focused a lot of attention on comments she made about defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Congressional Republicans’ super PAC and Yoder’s campaign have both turned those comments into attack ads. Davids put out her own ad saying they twisted her words.
In several recent polls, Yoder is trailing Davids. And Kobach is in a dead heat with his Democratic rival, Laura Kelly, in the governor’s race.
It’s unclear which strategy will work for the two Republicans — reaching out to moderates, or ignoring them and relying on Trump’s base.
In a variation on the usual candidate forum, those attending a candidate meet-and-greet event Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kansas, talked more to the candidates than the candidates talked to them.
Broderick Crawford, event moderator, told those in attendance to go and talk to the candidates themselves in a sort of “speed dating” format. First, there were short presentations about the community’s problems such as health, housing and income. Then, candidates had two minutes each to speak, followed by individual meetings with those in attendance.
“I want each of you to spend at least three minutes at each table,” Crawford told the audience. “Hold the candidates accountable.”
The candidate meet-and-greet event was held Tuesday night at the Faith Deliverance Family Worship Center, 3043 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, where the Rev. Harold Johnson, who is also a Unified Government commissioner, is pastor. Sponsors included Community Health Council, Econ Avenue, Historic Northeast-Midtown Association, KC United, NAACP KCK Chapter, NBC Community Development Corp., Northeast Economic Development Corp. and Unity with a Purpose.
Although there are only a little over 20 days remaining until the Nov. 6 general election, only two of the contested races on the ballot had all of the candidates present. Those contests were state commissioner of insurance, where Nathaniel McLaughlin, of Kansas City, Kansas, is the Democratic nominee, and Vicki Schmidt of Topeka is the Republican nominee; and state representative, 36th District, where Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore is the Democratic nominee and Chiquita Coggs is the Republican nominee. Event organizers said all candidates were invited.
U.S. representative, 3rd District
Sharice Davids, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative, 3rd District, from Shawnee, said, “We need a government more reflective of what our experiences really are.”
One of the things that’s missing from Congress right now is people who know what it’s like to have to work the entire time they are in college, what it’s like to be a first-generation college student and what it’s like to be raised by a single parent, Davids said.
“A lot of us know what that’s like,” Davids said. But many in Congress have no idea what it’s like having to make hard decisions about health care and how they are going to get into school, she added.
“I know what that’s like and I’m tired of people in Congress making decisions about things that affect us, when it doesn’t affect them,” Davids said.
The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-3rd Dist., of Overland Park, did not attend the event.
Chris Clemmons, a science teacher at Rosedale Middle School who lives in Shawnee, is the Libertarian nominee for U.S. representative, 3rd District.
“I care very greatly and very deeply for my community,” Clemmons said. “I’m watching decades of failed policies affect our communities every day, from the drug war that’s ripping apart our inner cities, to quite a few other things the federal government is doing today.
“I’m staring down at my child’s future with $21 trillion in national debt and no way to pay it back,” he said. “We’re looking at pushing trillion-dollar deficits next year and into the future. And things aren’t looking like they’re getting any better.”
If voters are tired of the federal government telling them what they can and can’t do, what health care they can and can’t have, and watching people being locked in cages for nonviolent crimes, then he is their candidate, he said.
Governor and lieutenant governor
A debate with the top three candidates for governor was held at lunchtime Tuesday in Wichita, and only one of those candidates, Greg Orman, an independent, made it to the meet-and-greet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee, was represented by Dr. Cindy Lane, former superintendent of schools in Kansas City, Kansas. Kris Kobach, the Republican nominee, did not attend. Two other candidates on the ballot, Jeff Caldwell, a Libertarian candidate, and Rick Kloos, an independent, attended the Kansas City, Kansas, event.
Caldwell, from Leawood, said a lot of the issues Kansas are facing stem from budgetary problems, and the state is $3.2 billion in debt, having borrowed against pensions and unfunded liabilities.
“We are facing huge astronomical tax increases in the future if we do not get our budgetary problems handled immediately,” Caldwell said.
“I am running for governor of Kansas to first pardon all nonviolent cannabis offenses,” he said. He estimated that would save the state $20 million a year. He said he wanted to fully legalize cannabis to fund schools.
He also said sports betting needs to be legalized. Almost all states surrounding Kansas have approved either medical cannabis or full legalization of cannabis, he said. Missouri will consider it in November, and legislation is proposed in Nebraska, he said.
Caldwell said one of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s failures was to tackle the budget with legislators prior to cutting taxes.
“It’s time to wake up, to tackle our issues, to look at our budget responsibly,” he said. “I would like to cut the budget responsibly with legislators so it doesn’t hurt the average Kansan.”
Dr. Lane, retired superintendent of schools, represented Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka.
“It’s important for all of us to vote, but to the youth here, you vote, and things will be all right,” Dr. Lane said. “This is about your future.”
Kelly was in Colorado when she and her husband decided to move to Kansas, Dr. Lane said.
“She wanted to raise her family in Kansas because of quality public schools and opportunity for economic well-being,” she said.
“I had the privilege of watching her work over the last eight years in her role as senator,” Dr. Lane said. “She is a no-nonsense kind of person who will truly listen to what the citizens of this state want, and will work across the aisle to make it happen. She is focused and she is determined. She is very much interested in ensuring that the quality of public schools continue. She was instrumental in the last legislative session in making sure we had a constitutionally valid finance formula so our schools , students and teachers had the resources they need to thrive.”
She said Kelly supports quality early childhood education, wants to work with public and private partnerships so all 4-year-old children have access, and also supports resources for technical and higher education so that students have opportunity to access higher pay and demand jobs.
Kelly is in favor of expanding Medicaid, reforming the KanCare system, and was instrumental in making sure the Brownback tax cuts were rescinded, Dr. Lane said. She is in favor of fiscally responsible tax policy, with a healthy budget, and wants to make sure the Kansas tax on food is not the highest state as it is today, she said.
Rick Kloos is an independent candidate for governor from Berryton, Kansas.
“I want to be about the people and I want to see us do politics much better,” Kloos said.
“There’s a perception that we waste money on education,” he said. Kloos said that is wrong. “I would never look at my kids or grandkids and say they are a liability. They are an asset and an investment to our future.” The state needs to support education, he said.
He discussed a nonprofit he started in Topeka, that he runs as a business and a service. The state should also be run as a business and a service, he said.
“I want to make sure we’re not neglecting anybody, and we’re taking care of people,” he said.
Greg Orman, independent from Fairway, Kansas, talked about how he had Democrats and Republicans in his family.
“Something has gone very wrong in our state,” Orman said. “If we don’t change the direction of this state, my two daughters and all our sons and daughters and grandchildren in Kansas are not going to feel inspired to build their lives in Kansas. “
He said he spent his life in the private sector, and is trying to live his version of the American dream.
“I also realize that as we’re trying to help others live the American dream, we don’t pull the ladder up from the other side,” Orman said.
Kansas commissioner of insurance
Both candidates for Kansas commissioner of insurance were present.
Nathaniel McLaughlin, Kansas City, Kansas, is the Democratic candidate for insurance commissioner.
McLaughlin said he had the business qualifications and academic credentials to serve as insurance commissioner.
He has a bachelor’s degree from Winston-Salem State University. He worked 37 years for Sodexho, including management positions, and is now retired.
“I want to advocate for the 350,000 adult Kansans who do not have any type of health insurance,” McLaughlin said.
He said while he is an advocate of Medicaid expansion, he does not blindly advocate it without a prudent review of its financial impact.
“I am against any program that adds a tax burden to the Kansas citizens,” McLaughlin said.
Work, faith in God, respect for his neighbor and his country are his values, he said.
Vicki Schmidt, Topeka, the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, recalled living in Wyandotte County during the 1970s, and working at a pharmacy here years ago. A state senator for 14 years, Schmidt said she grew up in Wichita and has been a pharmacist for more than 40 years.
She said she became a pharmacist to help people, and helping people is also why she wants to be insurance commissioner.
As a state senator, she said she has protected Medicare for seniors and has made sure children with autism have the insurance coverage they need. She said she would continue fighting for Kansans if elected.
She added she originally ran for the Senate when she found some errors being made in the Kansas medical assistance program, and developed a plan to correct the errors resulting in a savings of $391 million.
“I deal with health insurance every day when I am practicing my trade as a pharmacist, so I am familiar with that world,” she said.
State representative, 36th District
The incumbent, Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., is the Democratic nominee.
A lifelong resident of Wyandotte County, she formerly served as chief of staff for former Mayor Carol Marinovich. She is business director of the University of Kansas hospital. She served as chairman of the board of Wyandotte Economic Development Council, and was on the board of Wyandot Mental Health. She was first elected in 2010 to the state representative position.
She said her passion was to serve the community of Wyandotte County.
“The issues are so difficult, and the Statehouse is in difficult shape these years after eight years of Sam Brownback,” she said. “We have to pass Medicaid expansion, once and for all, we have to put more money in the school finance plan, we have to take care of some of those children’s and seniors’ programs that have been decimated over the past few years.”
Rep. Wolfe Moore said they have to make sure the culture of Washington, D.C., does not come to the state of Kansas. The divisiveness and ugliness is awful, she added. She said she believes in fairness, civility and compromise, and she will put loyalty to Wyandotte County and her state ahead of loyalty to the party.
Chiquita Coggs is the Republican nominee for state representative, 36th District.
Coggs currently works for the state of Kansas as the head of the Board of Cosmetology in Topeka. She is a native of Kansas City, Kansas, who is currently living in Kansas City, Kansas.
She has an associate’s degree from Kansas City Kansas Community College, a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in organizational psychology .
“I have an extreme passion, and that is education, in Kansas and especially here in Wyandotte County,” she said. “All of the issues for the state of Kansas are important,” she added.