The Down-Ballot Blues

One of our final chores leading up to every election day is dong some cursory research on all the down-ballot races, and this year that meant reminding ourselves of the name of the Republican who’s running for Kansas Secretary of State. The fact we had to look it up is further evidence of the currently sorry state of the Republican party in this reliably Republican state.
By now even the most apolitical Kansans are surely aware that the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State is Brian “Bam” McClendon, “the Google guy from Kansas.” He’s saturated the radio and television airwaves and especially the internet with advertisements touting his experience as the Google executive who oversaw the development of its undeniably impressive Google Map, which has McClendon’s hometown of Lawrence as the center of “Google Earth,” and they make a persuasive argument that such high tech savviness qualifies him to oversee the state’s computerized voting systems and deal with the other boring business of the office.
Meanwhile, we haven’t seen nor heard a single advertisement for the Republican nominee, a former small business owner and pharmaceutical executive and current state Representative whose name turns out to be Scott Schwab. After we looked that up we noticed the name on two or three lawn signs during our drives around town, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the ubiquitous “Bam!” signs that urge voters to “Google it!,” and Schwab’s been vastly out-spent and out-campaigned. Which doesn’t usually happen to Republicans around here.
Schwab won the nomination by a plurality against four other little-known contenders, and we vaguely recall that he got our vote, as he seemed the most reassuringly boring of all of the candidates. Schwab and his main contender both vowed to continue the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration, although they’ve been ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts, but otherwise he seems determined to make the Secretary of State’s office a boring down-ballot entity once again. After the last eight rock-’em-sock-’em years of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it would be a welcome respite.
Kobach used the office to gain a national profile as a hard-liner against voter fraud in general and illegal immigrant voter fraud in particular. He won our vote when he first ran for office with excellent educational credentials and some common sense reforms he was proposing, and we voted for his reelection because we thought that some sort of official photo identification isn’t an onerous requirement for voting, but since then we’ve soured on him. He was appointed by President Donald Trump to head a commission to prove that Trump lost the popular vote because of three million votes illegally cast by illegal aliens, but that effort was abandoned when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with a federal takeover of their constitutional state rights, and even Kansas couldn’t legally comply with the commission’s requests. Then Kobach got sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the far-more-onerous-than-a-photo-ID requirements for newly registered voters, and he represented himself in the case and not only lost but wound up paying some contempt of court fines.
Somehow Kobach won the state Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination by 300 or so votes over the reassuringly boring Gov. Jeff Colyer, who had taken the office when the very unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback made his way out of the state to become President Donald Trump’s “ambassador for religious freedom,” whatever that is. Kobach is promising to continue the Brownback tax-and-budget policies that never quite panned out as promised, and the Harvard and Yale and Oxford graduate spent the summer driving around in a red-white-and-blue painted Jeep with a replica machine gun, he’s fully embraced Trump and has been fully embraced in return, yet somehow finds himself in a too-close-to-call race against the reassuringly boring Democratic nominee state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kelly’s endorsed by all but one of the state’s living past Republican governors, two of the three of its living past Senators, half the current Republican legislature, and such lifelong Republicans as ourselves.
Which makes the Secretary of State race a hard call for us.
Based on his web site and the scant coverage from what’s left of the Kansas media this Schwab guy strikes us as a fellow boring establishment Kansas Republican white male, and he seems at least smart enough to hire some high tech savvy Google guy from Kansas to keep the state’s computers safe, which is exactly the sort of Republican we’ve routinely voted for over our many years. These days they’re damnably hard to find, though, and we feel a certain obligation to protect this endangered species.

On the other hand, that “Bam!” fellow is clearly what Trump would consider the more “high energy” candidate, and although we’re instinctively distrustful of energetic people he seems likely to devote his energy to keeping the state’s computer’s safe, and he’s apparently politically savvy enough not to facilitate any massive illegal immigrant voter fraud. He’s the sort of Democrat we’ve occasionally and reluctantly voted for, and in this midterm election there are several of them./div>

We have until tomorrow afternoon to make up our mind, so we’ll put it off until then. We’re also mulling some of the other down-ballot races. too. We always vote to retain any judges we’ve haven’t heard of, as we we figure that means they’re doing a good enough job, and we’ll be voting for the incumbent Republican state Attorney General according to the same logic.
So far as we can tell the Republicans aren’t running anyone here in our fashionable Riverside district of the House of Representatives, so we might wind up voting for the crazy lefty and old childhood buddy who represents. There’s an intriguing Sedgwick County Commission race around here, too, with an unabashedly progressive Democratic single mother and folk singer challenging the notoriously stingy and anti-establishment Republican incumbent, and the Republican incumbent’s stubborn stinginess and anti-establishment attitude has alienated a lot of local Republicans who like business as usual, and even when we drive past Riverside we notice she’s winning the yard sign war by a rout.
We’ll make up our minds about it by tomorrow afternoon, and hope for the best. Here’s hoping you’ll do you’ll some cursory research on all of your boring yet consequently down-ballot races, too, and that it also works out for the best.

— Bud Norman

Illegal Immigration on the Front Lawn

Liberalism can be a lonely philosophy in Kansas, where the office-holders usually run the gamut from moderate Republican to conservative Republican, and even the Democratic politicians feel obliged to pretend that they’re not liberals, but the psychic rewards of liberalism are therefore even greater here than elsewhere. There are more people for a liberal to feel morally and intellectually superior to, one of the primary appeals of liberalism, and the state also provides an ample supply of people that a good-hearted liberal can happily hate.
Half of the Koch brothers live in the state, which should be sufficient to keep a Kansas liberal constantly seething with a satisfying scorn, but it also has Gov. Sam Brownback, an abortion-hating budget-cutter whose squeaky-clean small town persona drives the local Democrats to a state of self-righteous hysteria, and adding to the embarrassment of right-wing riches is Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kansas Secretaries of State usually keep a low profile and inspire little passion in either their supporters or opponents, and they’ve never had the slightest bit of fame outside the state, but Kobach has become a nationally-loathed figure because of his outspoken opposition to illegal immigration. Before winning office he had served as an immigration adviser to Attorney General John Ashcroft, which was more than enough to earn the enduring enmity of liberals everywhere, and then he had the audacity to write tough immigration laws for Arizona and Alabama and the help defend them as a lawyer and essayist. Since taking office he has persuaded the legislature to pass a law requiring photo identification for voting, which the local liberals regard as far more frightening assault on civil liberties than anything the National Security Agency or Internal Revenue Service might be up to, and otherwise taken steps to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote.
The only explanation the liberal imagination can conjure for this bizarre stand is that Kobach must really hate Mexicans, a theory that also handily justifies the local liberals’ red-hot hatred for Kobach. So it was that on Saturday a group of about 300 protestors from something called Sunflower Community Action, sending out the call on the Tweeter “hashtag” of “#KingOfHate,” descended on Kobach’s home to drop a bunch of old shoes on his lawn. The protestors wore t-shirts proclaiming their “Kansas Values,” and chanted for “Kris Kobach come on down, see what Kansans are all about,” and generally seemed to think it the very height of Kansasness to for an angry mob to trespass on someone’s front porch.
Although the tactic has been employed from time to time by some of Kansas’ more militant anti-abortion activists, we can assure you that it is not characteristic of the state’s politics. The state’s media seemed to take it in stride, though, certainly with less indignation than was discernible in the reports of those gatherings on the front lawns of abortionists, and no one seemed to find anything hateful about it. Over at The Kansas City Star our erstwhile newspaper colleague Judy L. Thomas, usually an even-handed sort, even accepted the protestors’ claim that “the majority of Kansas support immigration reform” without question. We would certainly question it, based on our wide sampling of Kansas opinion as well as Kobach’s comfortable margin of victory in the last election, and even if it were true it would not justify a mob trespassing on a person’s home.
Illegal immigration is a vexing issue, and requires an honest debate. Beginning with the assumption that anyone who believes that Mexican nationals should not be allowed to vote in American elections is hateful does not further the dialogue, and it certainly does not excuse the hateful tactics employed by the likes of Sunflower Community Action no matter how good it feels. The protestors are no doubt pleased with themselves, but if the opposition starts showing up at their doors things could become ugly.

— Bud Norman