TOPEKA — Republican Derek Schmidt's record of success as a statewide candidate places him in conversations about who might compete for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts' job in Washington, D.C.
Roberts' decision not to seek re-election led Schmidt, re-elected Kansas attorney general in November, to place a microscope on political and personal metrics of a campaign that wouldn't require him to give up his job as attorney general unless victorious in November 2020.
"The bottom line for me is I love the job I currently have and I love my kids more, and they’re both high-school, middle-school age," Schmidt said. "So obviously, a commute to Washington has a certain downside to it. On the other hand, an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Senate is nothing you want to dismiss without real consideration. We're looking hard at it."
Schmidt said on the podcast Capitol Insider the duties and obligations of a Kansas attorney general were defined by more than 1,000 references layered in state statute.
In Kansas, an attorney general serves as the state's defense counsel and is expected to serve as a sounding board for state legislators considering reform of the criminal justice system. Schmidt's staff is involved in all state civil and criminal appellate cases, while periodically assisting county or district attorneys in complex criminal prosecutions. The attorney general fills a wide consumer-protection mandate, including Medicaid and securities fraud investigations, and extending to crime-victim compensation, domestic violence intervention and open government programs.
"It really is an eclectic mix," Schmidt said. "Fortunately, we have a good group of talented people that do it because I certainly can’t be expert in all those areas.”
In the 2019 legislative session, Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab agreed to support a bill severing authority granted in 2015 to the secretary of state's office to prosecute alleged voting fraud. Sam Brownback was governor when he signed a bill giving Secretary of State Kris Kobach what he wanted — unilateral power to charge people with election crimes.
"The reality is, with or without change in the current law, the current secretary of state has said he’s not going to be prosecuting these cases," Schmidt said.
Schmidt also said he would encourage the House and Senate to modify a law allowing judges to consider mitigating circumstances in sentencing adults convicted of sex crimes against juveniles. The issue was raised by a Leavenworth County judge who sliced years off the sentence of a man guilty of a sex crime because juvenile victims were labeled an "aggressor" in the case.
State law can maintain flexibility in sentencing without allowing behavior of a teenage victim to influence penalties imposed on an adult offender, the attorney general said.
"As a matter of public policy," Schmidt said, "when you have a sex crime with an adult perpetrator and a child victim, the child’s behavior is not relevant in figuring out how culpable the adult is."
Schmidt said there was reason to believe federal appellate courts would uphold constitutionality of the state's requirement for Kansans to offer proof of citizenship when registering to vote. He said the dispute was tainted by political and personality conflict, including Kobach's role in the federal trial and debate about influence of illegal immigrants in voting.
Schmidt said some state legislators urged him to drop appeal of the proof-of-citizenship case. He brushed aside the suggestion.
"My response to them is: 'You’re in the Legislature. If you don’t like this statute, repeal it,' " he said.