State Rep. Scott Schwab visited Garden City on Friday to talk policy as part of his bid for the Kansas secretary of state’s office in 2018.

Schwab, R-Olathe and current speaker pro tempore in the Kansas House, spoke during a meet and greet at Samy’s Spirits & Steakhouse in Garden City to articulate his plans for the secretary of state’s office.

Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, and Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, were all in attendance, as well as Finney County commissioners Larry Jones and Bill Clifford. Other than the state and local officials, the event drew modest attendance.

Jennings opened up for Schwab and gave him his endorsement in the race.

“There are three announced candidates for this race on the Republican side, and I can tell you that it is without equivocation that I support this gentleman who I am proud to call a friend," Jennings said. "He is a man of integrity. He is a person that if he tells you he is going to do something, he does it.”

Schwab’s campaign materials outline his platform as one that would protect Kansas’ elections to ensure trusted results, fully execute policies and safeguards such as the SAFE Act to “protect the integrity of our elections” by requiring voter ID and proof of citizenship requirements, and ensure that volunteers working in the election system receive adequate resources.

A native of Great Bend, Schwab has been serving in the House since 2003. He has served on the House Appropriations Committee, the Kansas Taxation Committee, and the Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development, among others.

Schwab said he has been planning to run for secretary of state since early 2016, but he put the decision on hold after a tragedy devastated his family. Later that year, Schwab’s 10-year-old son, Caleb, died during a family outing to the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City after he was flung from the Verruckt waterslide and fell 50 feet to his death.

For Schwab, the secretary of state’s office will give him a chance to help county clerks statewide contend with a bevy of election policy changes over the last several years, including Kobach’s Secure and Fair Elections Act (SAFE Act) signed into law in 2011, and a widened gap between primary and general elections.

He said he wants to ensure that county clerks have what they need to deliver election results the public can trust.

“I think it’s really, really important for the next generation, because if we compromise elections then we compromise the future,” Schwab said. “Voter ID has done a lot, but let’s make sure they have the resources because our county clerks are really, really good, but they need resources and they need to make sure that when they’re interpreting the law here or in Douglas County, they’re interpreting it the same way.”

Wheeler, the former Finney County attorney, noted that he spent eight years as director and officer of the Kansas County District Attorney’s Association resisting efforts by Kobach to attain prosecutorial power over voter fraud. Kobach successfully acquired that power in 2015 after Gov. Sam Brownback signed SB 34.

When asked by Wheeler if he wants to perpetuate that power in the secretary of state’s office, Schwab said he didn’t.

“I don’t want it,” Schwab said. “I’m not an attorney, and I trust (Kansas Attorney General) Derek Schmidt.”

Schwab added that he would “probably” vote for a repeal of SB 34.

“I had to double my staff out here because we had half of the voter fraud cases at one time,” Wheeler said facetiously. “There was one in Emporia and one here. There were two.”

Doll said people in Finney County’s diverse community are now afraid to vote after passage of the SAFE Act, and seniors who don’t have a driver’s license are often left out. Finney County voter turnout in the local elections last week was 18.6 percent.

Schwab responded that people older than 60 can use outdated driver’s licenses to vote, and anyone without a driver’s license can get a suitable ID from the county clerk. He noted that it was previously against the law to check voter IDs, and in elections without many voters, such as local elections, people would impersonate others as a group and swing elections.

As a result, he said, some people would be denied a chance to vote because someone else already had voted in their name.

“That’s where the voter fraud was in an election where you typically didn’t have a lot of voters,” he said. “If you’re registered to vote, you can vote in any election, and it’s public information on which elections you vote in.”

He said that’s why so many people voted for the SAFE Act, which passed 111-11 in the House and 36-3 in the Senate.

“If you’re willing to register, you’ve got to go to the county clerk at some point anyway, so they will help,” Schwab said. “You’ve just got to be willing to do it.”

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.