TOPEKA — A Republican-controlled state board dismissed a complaint Monday challenging inclusion of Secretary of State Kris Kobach on the gubernatorial ballot and agreed to let the courts and voters decide fate of a Johnson County candidate for the Kansas House charged with election perjury.
The State Objections Board, staffed by surrogates of the attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, found unconvincing the assertion by activist David Hammet that the outcome of the August primary for governor was distorted by handling of advance ballots and participation by unaffiliated voters.
Hammet said he wasn't surprised the board ruled against him, but was disturbed the chairman of the three-person panel, Eric Rucker, didn't recuse himself from a complaint directly involving Kobach's political welfare. Rucker is assistant secretary of state under Kobach.
"There is an undeniable appearance of impropriety," Hammet said. "This borders on corruption. This is ridiculous."
Rucker, who recused himself from the Johnson County case, said it didn't matter that he was among Kobach's employees, donated to Kobach's campaigns or attended the Kansas State Fair last weekend wearing a Kobach shirt.
"What should concern the people of Kansas is whether or not we're following the law, and we're following the law," Rucker said.
Kobach's duties at the hearing were handled by Rucker and Cathy Sachs, deputy assistant secretary of state. Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann's replacement was Brant Laue, general counsel for Gov. Jeff Colyer. Attorney General Derek Schmidt's role was filled by Athena Andaya, a deputy attorney general.
The second case heard by the board delved into the 26th District House candidacy of Adam Thomas, an Olathe Republican who attracted attention this summer by listing three addresses on documents while navigating the transition to a residence inside the 26th District. Last week, the Johnson County District Attorney charged Thomas with perjury based on alleged falsification of documents related to his candidacy.
In Topeka, the objections board unanimously concluded Democrats who filed the administrative complaint against Thomas hadn't met their burden of proof.
An attorney representing Deann Mitchell, who is a Democrat running in the 26th District, had accused Thomas of untruthfully claiming the duplex of a political donor as his residence at the time he filed for the seat. Mitchell testified during the objections board hearing, but Thomas chose not to attend and subject himself to questioning.
"He's got one charge of perjury and I don't think he wants another," said Vic Miller, an attorney and state representative retained by Mitchell. "His silence in this case is deafening."
Attorney Michael Kuckelman, who represented Thomas, said his client's intention was to move from a house outside the 26th District to a duplex inside the district's boundary before settling in a home also in the district.
Kuckelman accused Mitchell of stalking the Thomas family and forcing the candidate's wife and children "into hiding" at a relative's home. After Thomas filed for the House, Mitchell and some of her supporters took photographs of Thomas family vehicles parked at their home outside the district but never observed those vehicles at the duplex. Thomas is married and has five children.
Jacob Swisher, the Thomas campaign donor who leased the duplex purportedly shared by the Thomas family, was at the board hearing but left after speaking to Kuckelman and before called to testify.
"Why is it for us to say where anybody is a resident?" Kuckelman said.
Miller shot back: "It's not enough just to declare you live somewhere."
If Thomas had been ruled ineligible, the only candidate on the ballot Nov. 6 would be Mitchell. The seat is open due to the Republican incumbent’s decision not to seek re-election.
Miller praised Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe for setting aside partisan politics and charging a fellow Republican with election perjury. Kuckelman said Thomas would be vindicated in court.
"I think Mr. Thomas will be acquitted," said Kuckelman, who primarily does civil law rather than criminal defense work. "The district attorney has given into a political issue."
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