Voter fraud and illegal immigration work brings Kansas Secretary of State Kobach praise, scorn

April 9, 2012

Brad Cooper and Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star

Kris Kobach holds what should be one of the quietest jobs in government: Kansas secretary of state.

Yet it’s hard to find anyone who stays very quiet when asked about Kobach: He’s either loved or loathed.

He is “one of the most talented people I’ve ever encountered,” said former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a fellow Republican and close friend. “It’s in the interest of our country to have people of his integrity and quality.”

Mark Potok, senior fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors conservative groups, views Kobach much differently: “Wherever Kris Kobach goes, sorrows and trouble follow.”

Kobach, who turned 46 last week, is accustomed to such intense and divergent verdicts on his work — he is the very definition of a political lightning rod.

But the general public may soon hear a much louder argument about the former law professor and current legal consultant. The whispers in some Republican and media circles are growing: Kobach for Senate. Kobach for U.S. attorney general. Or maybe something even higher.

“He is the next wave, the future of the leadership in Kansas, and is a rising star nationally,” said Jeff Roe, a GOP political consultant based in Kansas City.

Kobach chuckles about the lofty speculation. “I have no current plans to run for president of the United States,” he insisted in an interview with The Star.

How did Kobach move from a failed Kansas congressional candidacy in 2004 to a spot on the long list of possible 2016 GOP presidential candidates?

A focus on immigration and voter fraud, supporters and opponents agreed. And enthusiasm for both issues among conservative media.

Kobach is now considered the GOP’s top strategist in the campaign against illegal immigration. He’s become a key adviser to presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on the issue and has filed numerous court papers on immigration law around the country.

His push for voter ID requirements has taken him to Wichita and Roeland Park this year, where he has watched election officials implement one of the nation’s newest picture ID initiatives.

He’s talked at length about these and related issues on conservative media. The O’Reilly Factor. Lou Dobbs. He hasn’t made the cover of The Rolling Stone, but he has been on the cover of Governing Magazine.

Critics have attacked Kobach’s publicity-friendly work habits, claiming he’s more interested in image building and media face time than the state’s numerous political challenges.

But Kobach makes no apologies for ranging beyond the job description of secretary of state, which is usually focused on such mundane government functions as business registration and the publication of state regulations.

“If you want a secretary of state who’s going to play five rounds of golf a week, don’t elect me,” said Kobach.

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