Who was Phill Kline? And what does his landslide defeat in 2006 mean for the governor’s race in 2018?
Anti-abortion zealot Phill Kline was elected attorney general in 2002 and then deployed his office in conducting highly publicized, wide-ranging inquisitions involving abortion.
Kline threatened healthcare professionals with prosecution for failing to report suspicions of under-age sexual abuse. He pursued court orders forcing state agencies to release private data on sexual abuse and the termination of pregnancies. And he sought search warrants for women’s medical records. In his fanatic pursuits Kline circumvented court orders, submitted false statements to courts, and abused the administration of justice.
Most all of Kline’s wild charges were dismissed or blocked in court, and later the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Kline’s law license for “his lengthy and substantial pattern of misconduct.”
Kansas voters tossed Kline from office when he sought reelection in 2006, giving him the lowest vote total for a Republican candidate for attorney general in over four decades. His Democratic opponent won that race by 140,000 votes.
Does Kline’s grandstanding with unsubstantiated charges, court infractions, and zealotry in the conduct of state office remind us of anyone?
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, currently a front-runner in seeking the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, has commandeered his office to mount a well-publicized, obsessive crusade, in Kansas and across the nation, to find and prosecute voter fraud.
Kobach claims that illegal voters number in the thousands or even millions nationally, but he has successfully prosecuted only a handful of cases in Kansas, mostly U.S. citizens convicted of voting in two states. His first prosecution of a non-citizen occurred last April. That contrasts with more that 1.2 million Kansans who voted last November.
Kobach has championed proof-of-citizenship laws to stop non-citizens from voting, but those laws have been challenged on grounds of disenfranchising voters and are now stalled in federal courts. In 2013 Kobach ordered local election officials to institute a convoluted two-tier voting structure designed to prevent voters registered on federal forms from voting in state and local elections. That placed thousands of potential voters in suspension. In 2016 a federal judge blocked Kobach’s orders and ruled that 18,000 of those in suspension be registered. In another challenge his two-tier plan was permanently halted.
Kobach has taken his voter fraud campaign national by signing on as vice-chair of President Trump’s “Election Integrity Commission” and as a columnist with Breibart, an ultra-right media outlet. In his first Breibart column he claimed without evidence that illegal voters had stolen a U.S senate race in New Hampshire.
Kobach’s litigious tactics have also run afoul of the courts. He has been reprimanded and penalized for deception in defending the proof-of-citizenship law. A federal magistrate judge fined Kobach $1,000 for deceptive conduct and “patently misleading representations.” Kobach appealed only to have another federal judge uphold the fine based on Kobach’s pattern of misleading statements to the court. More recently a third federal judge scolded Trump’s voter fraud commission, which Kobach continues to head, for failing to provide public access to agenda materials.
In 2006 Kansas voters rejected the reckless zealotry of Phill Kline and his conduct in public office. In 2018 they will have to determine whether Kobach’s fanatical quest to prove illusive voter fraud disqualifies him for elevation to higher office.
— H Edward Flentje is a professor emeritus at Wichita State University. He writes monthly for the "Insight Kansas" column series.