Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hopefuls spar on voter rights

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/23/2014

Voting is a right, not a privilege, Scott Morgan, a Lawrence Republican, said.

“When the government starts telling, because of fear, that we have to limit your right to protect your right, I start getting very nervous,” Morgan, a Kansas secretary of state candidate, said Tuesday night during a candidate forum organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

Voting is a right, not a privilege, Scott Morgan, a Lawrence Republican, said.

“When the government starts telling, because of fear, that we have to limit your right to protect your right, I start getting very nervous,” Morgan, a Kansas secretary of state candidate, said Tuesday night during a candidate forum organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

Morgan is challenging incumbent Kris Kobach in the Aug. 5 primary election, and both took questions from constituents Tuesday night at the Ottawa Municipal Auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. Kobach’s focus on proof of citizenship to register to vote has created more problems than it has solved, Morgan said.

“It shouldn’t be complicated,” Morgan said. “I urge you to consider what kind of mess we have made and no problem was ever shown to be sufficient to deserve that.”

Kobach told the crowd he introduced a bill in 2011 to the Kansas Legislature that would require Kansas residents registering to vote to prove American citizenship through photo identification. Once the bill became law, many states throughout the country began copying the legislation.

Wisconsin’s law was struck down in April by a federal judge, Morgan told the crowd. But Kobach isn’t worried, he said, because the Kansas law included more ways to prove citizenship than the Wisconsin law. He expects the Wisconsin ruling won’t survive the appeal process, he said.

“Regardless, Kansas’ law is different,” Kobach said. “When the [American Civil Liberties Union] has tried to defeat our laws in court, if they felt the Wisconsin decision was applicable and they could use it to their advantage, I guarantee I’d be receiving some papers at the Secretary of State’s Office very soon because they would be suing us.”

The Kansas law has left 19,000 in the state unregistered before the coming Aug. 5 primary election, Morgan said, noting his own daughter who was originally denied to vote, but then cleared after a few days of media attention. Morgan said she was greenlit through the system because her father is running for election.

Kobach downplayed the number of residents trying to register to vote and said they were residents who haven’t finished the registration process, which might be because those voters are not interested in the primary election and have four more months before the general election. He said if the state doesn’t enforce the law, then there will be abuse by illegal immigrants.

“When you have a system that doesn’t have strong enforcement to ensure that our votes are fair, you do have abuse,” Kobach said. “Every time an [illegal immigrant] votes it cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen.”

Of 10 million votes cast in Kansas, only about five are possibly cast by illegal immigrants, Morgan contended.

Along with the voter registration issue, Morgan said Kobach is too involved with political issues outside the borders of Kansas, and the state’s voters should relieve him of his duties so he can focus on those national interests.

“Kobach involves himself in many things throughout the country, makes tens of thousands of dollars, taking on clients that have nothing to do with Kansas,” Morgan said. He later added: “I don’t believe Mr. Kobach wants to be secretary of state. ... And I’d like to relieve him of that duty so he can go out and be the ‘Guardian of State Sovereignty’ if that’s what he chooses to do.”

Many politicians use their free time to golf, Kobach said, but he doesn’t. Instead, he uses his spare time dealing with issues of his interest, including political and legal issues in other states, he said.

“I’ve been accused of being hyperactive and a workoholic,” Kobach said. “I spend spare time at my desk until way past midnight some nights writing legal briefs trying to stop the ACLU.”

GOVERNOR’S RACE

Gov. Sam Brownback has been trying to fight off Democrat challenger Paul Davis in recent weeks, but the Ottawa audience was treated to another alternative for governor in Wichita Republican Jennifer Winn.

Winn faces Brownback, who was not present for the forum Tuesday, in the Aug. 5 primary and chose to run for election, she said, because she is not a professional politician, but a Kansan who believes in term limits. She hopes that, if elected, the person who takes office after her would be another everyday Kansan — like those in attendance at the forum.

“I think we need to get back to the people,” Winn said. “And not with career politicians, not with somebody buying your vote or your position, but actually it’s supposed to be someone representing ‘We the People.’”

Winn owns a small business and was inspired to run for office when her son was charged of first-degree murder in a drug deal gone bad, according to the Wichita Eagle.

Her experience running a small business gives her the confidence to deal with a state that has been losing revenue, but has an increasing state budget. She said she would run the state the same way she runs her business, and would balance a budget much like an entrepreneur.

“Obviously business is something I do quite well, and I will not spend something I don’t have,” Winn said.

When addressing the recent $338 million revenue shortfalls, Winn said the first course of action is to promote transparency.

“We’ve all been told we’re going to get [transparency], but yet we don’t,” Winn said. “Transparency is something that is going to identify where the wasteful spending is occurring and that can be corrected.”

She also noted mass incarceration, specifically non-violent offenders, who are taking up state spending to be housed in jail.

“That needs to be re-evaluated and re-evaluated very quickly so we can put that money back in our budget and not raise our taxes,” Winn said.

INSURANCE

COMMISSIONER

Although many in the audience might not have known the duties of the Kansas insurance commissioner, Republican candidate Ken Selzer tried to explain exactly how the office impacts them and why he should be chosen for it. Selzer, Leawood, an executive managing director for Aon Benfiel and a certified public account, has credentials in insurance, he said.

“It is not a legislative job,” Selzer said. “We’re down on mandates, and up with trying to educate Kansans on the complexities of insurance.”

Selzer faces a race consisting of five Republican candidates — Beverly Gossage, David J. Powell, Clark Shultz, John M. Topikar, and Selzer. The winner will face Dennis Anderson in the Nov. 4 general election. None of the other candidates participated in Tuesday’s forum.

Most states appoint an insurance commissioner, Selzer said, and only one in the Sunflower State has been a Democrat — former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. State statute requires the commissioner to educate and advocate for consumers, regulate insurance companies and license insurance agents, Selzer said, noting he also could help bring companies to Kansas to create a competitive insurance market.

“That will bring lower prices relative to what they otherwise would have been, which would bring better cover and affordability,” Selzer said. “We want to improve the competitive environment here in the state of Kansas in the insurance industry.”

KanCare, Medicare and Medicaid are outside the commissioner’s jurisdiction, Selzer said. The commissioner position does not exist to create legislation, but can propose legislation to find ways to better help consumers, he said.

Selzer left on a light note by mentioning his name, specifically his initials, would be easy to remember at the voting booth — “KS for KS” — although he said his brother, Bob Selzer, wouldn’t have been as good of a fit.

“Bob Selzer had to move to Alaska, because ‘BS for Kansas’ wasn’t going to work,” Selzer said.

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