TOPEKA -- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced Thursday that he's running for the Republican nomination for Kansas governor.
Kobach launched a campaign website, changed his Twitter background to highlight his campaign, and spokeswoman Samantha Poetter confirmed to The Associated Press that Kobach was entering the race.
Kobach opened his campaign at Thompson Barn, 11184 Lackman Rd., as Johnson County is the state's most populous county and home to about 22 percent of all Kansas voters.
Kobach, 51, is a strong abortion opponent and gun-rights advocate, an Ivy League- and Oxford-educated former law professor, ex-U.S. Justice Department official and former Kansas Republican Party chairman. He has advised Trump for months, first on immigration, then on election fraud issues. He spoke with FOX 4's John Holt on Thursday afternoon.
"We need an executive who is active in telling the legislature this is what I want. Rather than an executive who is passive, saying okay, show me what you guys want to do and I'll sign it or veto it," he said.
Before pursuing voter ID laws, Kobach was best known for helping to draft tough laws against illegal immigration, including Arizona's "show your papers" law in 2010.
Kobach gained a national reputation for championing tough voter identification laws and helping to draft state and local laws aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. He's jumping into the 2018 governor's race only two days after Kansas legislators enacted a law rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback over Brownback's veto, a move Kobach has criticized.
President Trump named Kobach vice chairman of the election fraud commission, with Vice President Mike Pence as chairman. The voter ID laws in Kansas that Kobach advocated have sparked multiple lawsuits from such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union. He has served as Kansas' elected secretary of state since 2011 and is the only chief state elections officer with the power to prosecute voter fraud — authority he sought from legislators.
"By nominating Kris Kobach for governor, the Republican Party would continue to endorse the failures of Sam Brownback," Kansas Democratic Party Chairman John Gibson said in an email statement after Kobach's announcement. "Whoever our colleagues on the other side of the aisle choose as their standard bearer, we look forward to a vigorous debate about the direction of our state."
Brownback is term-limited, and there has been speculation that he'll resign by the fall to take an ambassador's position in the Trump administration, automatically elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor. Colyer is considered a potential Republican candidate regardless, but Kobach brings a base of ardent conservative supporters into the race.
The contest could become crowded. A Wichita oil company owner, Wink Hartman, has been campaigning for the Republican nomination since February, and former state Rep. Ed O'Malley, CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, is exploring the GOP race. On the Democratic side, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty have announced they're running.
Kobach has never been shy about weighing in on issues outside the formal bounds of the secretary of state's office.
He's recently been commenting on the Legislature's debate about raising taxes to fix the state budget and provide extra money for public schools. Many voters soured last year on the tax-cutting Brownback experiment initiated in 2012 and elected more Democrats and GOP moderates to the Legislature — setting the stage for this week's rollback.
He told Holt that he disagrees with the school finance fix.
"Not comfortable with it. I think it increases school spending on K-12 too much. In a two-year period it increases school spending almost 300 million. And the other problem is we're still basically operating on the same school funding formula that came out in 1992. Part of the mission if you talk to legislators in January was we're going to come out with a new funding formula. They didn't," he said.
In a tweet, Kobach labeled as "obscene" the tax increase approved by lawmakers, $1.2 billion over two years.
"It is time to drain the swamp in Topeka," Kobach tweeted Wednesday morning, after Brownback's veto was overridden, adopting a Trump presidential campaign slogan. When asked by Holt who he leans on for advice and counsel, the Kansan says he turns to a Missourian.
"Most often, John Aschcroft. Former boss at the Department of Justice, has been an amazing mentor for me. Started working for him in 2001 and I'm still talking to him, very frequently on the phone and in person," Kobach explained.
In response to Kobach's announcement, the Kansas Democratic Party released the following statement:
"It is the responsibility of the Kansas Democratic Party to elect a governor who is grounded in reality and represents the interests of all Kansans. That work is our focus. By nominating Kris Kobach for governor, the Republican Party would continue to endorse the failures of Sam Brownback. Whoever our colleagues on the other side of the aisle choose as their standard bearer, we look forward to a vigorous debate about the direction of our state."