Kansas Rep. Watkins unseated in 2nd District after facing charges; LaTurner wins GOP primary

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FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kan., makes a point during a town hall meeting, in Topeka, Kan. Watkins, a freshman Kansas congressman who had listed a UPS Inc. store as his residence on a voter registration, was criminally charged Tuesday, July 14, 2020, with four crimes, including unlawful voting. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ state treasurer has unseated freshman Rep. Steve Watkins in the Republican primary with Watkins facing felony criminal charges.

Treasurer Jake LaTurner’s victory in Tuesday’s election came only three weeks after the district attorney in Watkins’ home of Shawnee County filed the charges.

Watkins is accused of voting illegally in a Topeka City Council race in November 2019 and trying to mislead a sheriff’s detective investigating Watkins.

He allegedly listed a UPS Inc. store postal box as his residence on a state voter registration form for more than three months starting in late August 2019. He has since corrected it.

Watkins has called the criminal charges “bogus” and his attorney filed a request with the presiding judge in the case to have District Attorney Mike Kagay disqualified. Watkins’ lawyer alleged that Kagay, a Republican, has a conflict of interest because Kagay’s re-election campaign this year shares a direct mail provider with LaTurner.

Deputy District Attorney Brett Watson filed a response that called the arguments of Watkins’ attorney “superficial.”

But LaTurner argued the criminal charges against Watkins made an already vulnerable incumbent an even worse bet with Democrats sensing an opportunity to pick up the 2nd District seat in eastern Kansas despite its Republican leanings.

Watkins is a former Army officer and military contractor who barely won his seat in 2018 as a political novice.

LaTurner is a former state senator who has served as treasurer since 2017.

Watkins and LaTurner battled for the GOP nomination with Dennis Taylor, a Topeka lawyer and businessman with a long career in state and local government that has included heading several state agencies.

LaTurner will now face Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who won the Democratic nod Tuesday. She’s served as mayor since 2018 and previously spent five years on the City Council. She’s the first Latina and single mother to serve as mayor.

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