Kansas attorney general candidate emerges from tragedy with refined sense of public service
Democrat Chris Mann on ballot against GOP nominee Kris Kobach
Chris Mann, Democratic nominee for attorney general against GOP nominee Kris Kobach, examines his career, motivation for seeking public office and plans to reshape the attorney general’s office. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Democrat Chris Mann looks at the job of Kansas attorney general through the lens of personal experience as a law enforcement officer, crime victim, prosecutor and defense lawyer.
Mann, competing against Republican nominee Kris Kobach in the November election, said he wouldn’t approach this foray into elective politics the same way had a drunk driver not shattered a lifelong dream to follow in career footsteps of his police officer father.
It was 3:30 a.m. Jan. 11, 2002. Mann, who joined the Lawrence police force before graduating from University of Kansas, pulled a vehicle over for a broken taillight.
An intoxicated driver slammed into his parked cruiser at 50 mph. Force of that collision threw Mann into the back of the SUV he’d pulled over — crime scene photos show an impression of his body on that vehicle — and deposited him 30 feet away on the side of the road. He was fortunate to survive. Physical therapy couldn’t conquer lingering pain in his body. It was devastating to step away from the police department.
“It was a great job,” Mann said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “It was a job I really enjoyed doing. I felt like it was a calling.”
With an intact goal of being involved in public service, or “turning my pain into purpose,” Mann enrolled in law school at Washburn University in Topeka. His first job out of law school was as a prosecutor in Wyandotte County with a caseload that ranged from traffic tickets to homicides. That was followed by work on white-collar criminal cases as special assistant attorney general at the Kansas Securities Commission.
Mann, married to a surgeon and with two children, opened a law firm that has centered on representing victims of drunk drivers as they navigated the civil and criminal justice system.
“It’s that experience, and that experience in the law, that I want to bring to the state of Kansas, to the people of Kansas, to make sure that that office is run the way it should be,” he said.
Not all politics
Mann, who has never before sought elected office, said he was campaigning for attorney general to improve public safety and to protect the rights of people.
“I have said from day one that I think this office should be about public safety and not politics,” he said. “The office itself needs to be there to help the people of Kansas. And that means that you can’t be distracted by a political agenda or personal political beliefs. You have to be there to do the work every day, to make people’s lives better in the state, to protect their rights, to protect the Constitution, and to make sure that folks feel comfortable in their communities.”
He said it was unfortunate Kobach was intent on establishing a special unit in the attorney general’s office dedicated to filing lawsuits against President Joe Biden.
“I just don’t think this office should be focused on one man’s political agenda. The office is far too important for that. This is the top law enforcement office in the state,” Mann said.
Kobach was twice elected secretary of state in his career, but lost campaigns for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
“I’m running for this office to help the people of Kansas,” Mann said. “My opponent is running for the office just to run for another office because he’s a politician.”
Mann also was critical of the decision by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the GOP nominee for governor, to join a lawsuit originating in Texas intended at delve into 2020 election results in key states won by President Joe Biden.
Mann said there was no justification for suits filed by an attorney general based on partisan political calculations or to otherwise chase the spotlight.
“The attorney general should be very selective about the lawsuits that are filed,” he said.
Candidates for state and federal office in Kansas have faced questions on abortion after the August vote overwhelmingly rejecting a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have denied women the right to abortion in Kansas.
“The people of Kansas have clearly spoken in this August 2 primary, and they want there to be a right for women to make their own private medical decisions. I can tell you that I’m not going to use the limited resources of the attorney general’s office to attack anyone’s constitutional rights,” Mann said.
While working in Wyandotte County, Mann joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving. He contributed to the effort to pass a state law requiring use of ignition interlock devices by anyone convicted of a DUI. He eventually became chairman of MADD’s national board of directors.
“I got to travel the country doing this work, talking to industry leaders, folks from the NFL, law enforcement throughout the country and other victims,” he said. “What I really focused on was sharing my story, asking those folks to also turn their pain into purpose and to help their communities to keep their roads safe.”
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