Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said during the Kansas Reflector podcast the job of attorney general was a better fit for him than serving as governor. The Republican, elected in November, also addressed his legislative agenda and other key issues in the interview. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Republican Kris Kobach sought to leverage hefty name recognition earned through successful statewide campaigns for Kansas secretary of state to seek election as governor and to the U.S. Senate.
Voters didn’t warm to his bid for those two offices, and he lost to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in 2018 and to U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall in 2020. In November, however, he was elected attorney general and expressed confidence his up-and-down political career path had carried him to a place more suited to interests of a former university law professor dabbling in constitutional questions.
“You know, I think, obviously being governor is a huge honor and a very important position,” Kobach said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “I am more excited, you know, getting out of bed in the morning to do some of the things and litigate some of these issues that the attorney general gets to do than say, some of the minutiae that the governor has to do every day.”
Kobach laid out a legislative agenda when sworn into office in January, and has gained traction during the 2023 legislative session on several elements of that roadmap. He also spoke during the interview about abortion rights, mass shootings and the hand of big government.
Good guys with guns
His policy wish list included elimination of the state’s $100 fee assessed on people securing a concealed firearm permit in Kansas. It didn’t make sense to charge Kansans a fee to exercise a constitutional right, he said.
“We shouldn’t have to pay a fee to exercise our First Amendment rights. We shouldn’t have to pay a fee to go to church on Sunday,” Kobach said.
He said there was a practical side to the change because the $100 charge was a disincentive for people to go through firearm training required of a concealed gun license. In the Legislature, he said, Republicans took pleasure in eliminating a fee and Democrats voted to send the bill to the governor because it might encourage more Kansans to take the class.
He said the right to carry concealed should be viewed as a constitutional right because it reflected the generally accepted manner in which people carried arms these days. In Kansas, individuals 21 years of age or older may carry concealed with or without a permit.
Kobach, who routinely champions the Second Amendment, said restrictions on certain weapons, including firearms styled on the AR-15, wouldn’t move the needle on the relentless march of mass shootings across the United States. He said it should be acknowledged that mass killers were more likely to use a semi-automatic handgun than a semi-automatic AR platform rifle.
“There’s no question that there’s a huge problem in this country with mass shootings,” he said. “But I think by focusing on that rifle, they’re focusing on the wrong thing.”
He said the solution to mass shootings was a good guy with a gun willing to stop a crazed killer.
“It’s going to have to be meeting force with force,” Kobach said. “I believe that allowing good guys with guns to have opportunities to defend themselves and others has to be part of the equation.”
In August 2022, Kansas voters rejected a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Opponents of the statewide ballot question affirmed value of a Kansas Supreme Court decision that found the right to bodily autonomy and the ability to end a pregnancy to be among foundational rights in the state constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Kobach took issue with text of the amendment placed on ballots, which was written by anti-abortion lobbyists and legislators. He said there was too much voter confusion to draw conclusions about what Kansans were saying about abortion rights in that statewide vote.
“It was not well written. And, as a result, I think it’s very difficult for us looking at it after the fact to say, ‘This is what the voters meant,'” he said.
Still, GOP lawmakers in the 2023 legislative session pressed ahead with a series of bills designed to complicate the process of securing an abortion in Kansas. For example, the Kansas House and Kansas Senate sent the governor a bill mandating doctors — under threat of criminal and civil penalty — provide lifesaving care to an aborted fetus showing any sign of life. Kelly vetoed the bill, but GOP leaders said they would try to override her.
“I think that’s a reasonable law,” Kobach said. “I also think that that law stands a very good chance, even with the Supreme Court’s Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 precedent, of surviving any challenge.”
It has been commonplace in the Legislature for advocates of K-12 education reform, especially those seeking state tax dollars to finance private-school vouchers or when trying restrict access to library books, to declare parents had the best handle on needs of their children. Some of those same state lawmakers backed a bill allowing state government to override parents making decisions to seek gender-affirming health care for their children under 18. Kelly is expected to veto that bill.
Kelly did veto legislation requiring girls and women to participate in sports programs from kindergarten through college based on gender assignment at birth. The Legislature summoned two-thirds majorities to override the governor, substituting the government’s preference for decisions of parents and their kids.
Kobach defended the legislation and argued the objective was to create fair competition in sports events that could be undermined by transgender girls and women.
“You know, every sport has rules, right?” Kobach said. “The reason I feel so strongly about this is it I think the trans athlete participating in girl sports threatens the fairness of the sport.”
He said there was potential of an ACLU lawsuit challenging on constitutional grounds exclusions aimed at transgender women and girls.
“If they want to, my answer is: ‘Go ahead and bring it.’ I feel very confident that this law will survive a constitutional challenge,” the attorney general said.
In another potential ideological conflict, Kansas legislators demanded a ban on state investments in China and Russia in response to actions viewed as detrimental to U.S. national interests.
A portion of legislators touting that policy supported a prohibition on state contracts and investments by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System in companies tied to ESG, or environmental, social or corporate governance metrics. Kobach endorsed passage of legislation to thwart ESG.
“You have these large firms that are scoring companies based on you know, are they environmentally clean enough? Are they woke? Do they have the right social positions on all of these issues that have nothing to do with whatever industry that company is in? They’re using the massive influence of large investment houses and state pension funds … to try to push these corporations in an ideological direction. That, I think, is objectionable.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.