Enemies of Kris Kobach's politics gathered Tuesday at the Statehouse to summon opposition ahead of next week's primary race, in which Kobach is considered a frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor.
Activists, immigrants and attorneys implored Kansans to vote for anybody other than Kobach, describing him as a candidate who stokes fear, attacks voter rights, lacks respect for equality and costs taxpayers millions with model legislation that doesn't withstand court scrutiny.
"The thought of Kris Kobach leading our state fills me with grave concern," said Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Topeka’s Temple Beth Sholom. "I believe he is dangerous. As a Jew, I am part of a people who have seen over the centuries the very real danger of bad political leaders."
The news conference was organized by the Kobach is Wrong for Kansas political action committee, which has produced reports that detail Kobach's involvement with anti-immigration and voting laws, militia promoters, and what the PAC describes as Islamophobic initiatives.
Zachery Mueller, the author of those reports, said the PAC has given presentations at 35 house parties in recent months in an effort to ignite grassroots opposition to Kobach.
Shaffaa Mansour, a Muslim woman, medical student and first-generation American who was raised in the Kansas City area, said she first learned about Kobach at one of those house parties. Mueller's report criticizes Kobach — who worked under former Attorney General John Ashcroft after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — for formulating a costly, intrusive and unproductive federal tracking system for non-residents from Muslim countries. The report also notes Kobach's support for President Donald Trump's ban on Muslim refugees.
Mansour, 21, said Kobach adds to a "greater macrocosm of fear" that has affected her and other Muslims in her life. When people look at her, she said, they don't know if she is an American or a terrorist.
"The reality is really scary when you realize that people around you see you as less of an American simply for one part of me that contributes to the many different layers of my entire identity," she said. "I noticed how growing up I felt guilty and ashamed to openly admit I was Muslim."
Other speakers lambasted Kobach's performance during the recent federal trial over the state's proof of citizenship law, which was ruled unconstitutional. In the process, the judge lashed out at Kobach for failing to follow court rules. She also held him in contempt of court and ordered the state to pay legal fees for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Stiel wondered how Kobach could show his face in public, let alone run for governor. After "years of unsubstantiated sound bites," she said, he couldn't demonstrate that voter fraud exists in Kansas.
Mildred Schroeder, a Manhattan attorney, said she has never been held in contempt of court despite having a big mouth.
"We can’t afford his mistakes," Schroeder said. "How many will he make when he’s governor?"
Denise Ramoz, of Kansas People's Action, lamented the cost of legislation Kobach produced as an "anti-immigration crusader." The laws were crafted to hold landlords and employers liable for providing housing or jobs to undocumented immigrants. Ramoz said Kobach's work "blew up in his face" in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, where legal fees have cost the town of 29,000 people more than $6 million, according to one of Mueller's reports.
His report said Kobach also wrote and defended ordinances in Valley Park, Mo., Hazleton, Penn., and Fremont, Neb. While Kobach made "a small fortune in legal fees," the report said, courts largely rebuked his laws and in some cases issued fines. The legislation led to protests in the streets, lingering division among community members and damage to local economies.
"People’s lives are affected by these issues," Mueller said. "Who knows what he will do if he is the governor of our state?"