His announcement came just two days after the state legislature voted to override Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of legislation rolling back drastic tax cuts the state implemented in 2012. Kobach criticized the vote, tweeting that “it is time to drain the swamp in Topeka,” the state’s capital.
Kansas’ term-limit law prevents Brownback, 60, from seeking a third consecutive term.
Kobach, 51, has served as Kansas secretary of state since 2011. He’s gained prominence for his hardline stance on immigration as well as his support for strict voting regulations. The American Civil Liberties Union dubbed him the “king of voter suppression.”
During his first year in his current post, his office drafted the Secure and Fair Elections Act, later adopted by the state legislature. It requires voters to present a photo ID when casting a ballot in person and submit proof of citizenship when registering to vote, making it one of the nation’s toughest such laws.
The act was met with strong opposition from voting rights advocates, and has faced legal challenges since its adoption. Last year, a federal judge ruled that that the proof-of-citizenship requirement likely violates the National Voter Registration Act and ordered the state to re-register thousands of voters. The state has appealed the ruling.
In February, a civil rights advisory panel declared that the law may discriminate against voters of color.
In 2015, Brownback signed a bill that gave Kobach authority to prosecute voter fraud. Since then, Kobach has convicted nine people under the law, including one non-citizen. In promoting stricter voting ID laws, Kobach has said millions of non-citizens may be registered to vote in the U.S., while failing to prove his claim.
In May, President Donald Trump named Kobach vice chairman of a commission to investigate voter fraud in the 2016 election. No evidence has surfaced to back up Trump’s claim that between three million and five million people voted illegally in the election.
Kobach has also advised Trump on immigration issues, such as the proposed construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the creation of a national registry of Muslim immigrants.
Democrats immediately sought to tie Kobach to Brownback, whose popularity has sagged. (A Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this year found 66 percent of Kansas voters disapproving of Brownback’s performance.)
“Kris Kobach would reinstate the disastrous Brownback tax policy that dragged Kansas into fiscal ruin,” Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, said. He added that Kobach has “aggressively chased the national spotlight pushing outlandish voter fraud conspiracy theories when he should have been doing his job for the people of Kansas.”
Kansas Democratic Party chairman John Gibson sounded a similar note, saying that by nominating Kobach, the state’s GOP “would continue to endorse the failures” of Brownback.
Businessman Wink Hartman has also announced he’ll seek the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty are running.