TOPEKA, Kan. -- It is opening day of the 2013 Kansas Legislature, and Kris Kobach is in his element. Gladhanding, smiling, making small talk with new House members, promising to pronounce their names right. And relishing a day of democracy.
"We are a country of citizen legislators," he says. "That's how the founding fathers meant it to be."
Kobach knows a lot about the founding fathers, as a former UMKC School of Law professor, Harvard undergrad and Yale Law School graduate. But these days he wears a different hat: Kansas Secretary of State.
An office the ardent conservative scored in 2010, defeating Kansas City, Kan., State Sen. David Haley. And once elected, he wasted no time, promoting a photo voter ID law he labels one of the toughest in the nation and a model for other states.
"I promised we would have the toughest voter ID fraud law in America. We got it done in 2011, and it worked. Not only did it work, it worked really well," Kobach says, noting that only .07 percent of Kansas voters in November failed to produce a voter ID.
"There's real voter fraud, we documented it and showed it to the legislature," he adds.
But his one time opponent calls that a straw man argument. Sen. David Haley insists there is no voter fraud in Kansas that is worth the disenfranchisement he says a photo ID imposes on voters.
"Literally, it's a handful, against a backdrop over the last decade, and no hyperbole, of millions and millions of Kansas votes," said Haley, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.
He takes it a step further, labeling Kobach a symbolic war criminal.
"He in fact has been a general, in this war against democracy," Haley said. "And he then would be in fact, vis-a-vis, a war criminal. Indicted, prosecuted, and convicted."
But the lightning rod that is Kris Kobach isn't limited to the halls of the Kansas Capitol, nor his office just across the street. Kobach has put himself on the national stage with another controversial issue: immigration reform.
From authoring, and then defending the controversial Arizona law, to regular cable TV appearances promoting his no holds barred approach: if 11 million illegal immigrants in America want a pathway to citizenship, they need to go home and get in line. A stance he's firm on in spite of Mitt Romney losing the Hispanic vote big, and the move in Washington to compromise on a pathway to citizenship.
"And some are saying well, look at the 2012 election, Republicans should change their whole outlook," Kobach said. "I say no. Our outlook is one that Americans agree with. Do it legally, continue to be a generous welcoming community, but at the same time don't just say 'you broke the law, we don't care.'"
Kobach said it's a rule of law issue, and that's American's founding principal.
But why immigration? It's a path Kobach admits was happenstance, thanks to a White House Fellowship in the Attorney General John Ashcroft Justice Department.
Kobach calls the former Missouri governor a mentor. "There's no question whether people agree with John Ashcroft or disagree, he was a principled leader...I've tried to live my life the same way."
Ten days into his fellowship, terrorists attacked on 9/11, and Ashcroft eventually put Kobach in charge of plugging holes in immigration law the terrorists exploited.
"So those experiences in the Bush Justice Department were actually quite instrumental in what I'm doing encouraging states to help enforce the law."
But critics, even a conservative national advocate from Kansas City, argue Kobach's approach is harming the GOP.
Michael Barrera is a former Kansas City attorney now with the Libre Initiative in Denver. He said Hispanics do agree with Republicans on many issues, but immigration is still a road block to voting Republican:
"A lot of subjects are very important to the Hispanic community, and they're very similar to the general community. Jobs is number one -- and immigration if you ask generally is like 4th or 5th. But it's a gateway issue, meaning if you don't have a solution to immigration that's more than just rhetoric, they're not going to listen to the rest."
Kobach, whose path to Topeka came by way of the Overland Park city council, a failed try at Congress in 2004, and stint as the Kansas GOP Party Chair, is standing firm.
"So many Hispanic U.S. citizens who are first generation or second generation U.S. citizens, are actually the most insistent we enforce our laws."
And in spite of critics who say he should focus on his role as an elected state official rather than spending time on the national immigration issue, Kobach remains firm.
"I work on these immigration matters in my spare time. Some Secretary of State's may spend their spare time playing golf, I spend my spare time working on immigration cases."
And spending time with his wife and four girls. If there's any left, he can be found bow hunting, an escape from the stresses of life on the state and national stage.
As for his future, he's not ruling anything out, saying he'll seek re-election in two years as Secretary of State. But he won't close any doors.
"I'm sure if there's a door I'm supposed to walk through and some path will become clear and hopefully the man upstairs will give me the idea to do that."