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Kansas attorney general candidates split on voter fraud, abortion rights, immigration

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Kobach and Mann debate for first time ahead of November election

TOPEKA — Republican and Democratic candidates for Kansas attorney general clashed on immigration issues, abortion rights and voting laws during their first debate Thursday, held at the Wichita Crime Commission Forum. 

Both candidates said the federal government failed to do enough about immigration. GOP candidate Kris Kobach said he viewed the role of Kansas attorney general as a position to fight illegal immigration. 

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Kobach said President Joe Biden’s administration has allowed unprecedented illegal immigration, leading to higher crime rates and “an extraordinary number of terrorists” entering the U.S. Kobach has said previously that if elected, he would create a special unit in the Attorney General’s Office concentrating on suing the Biden administration, along with federal agencies. 

Kobach’s stance on illegal immigration has been part of his platform for years, including in his failed 2018 general election gubernatorial run and in his failed 2020 primary campaign for the U.S. Senate. 

“If you think that border issues have nothing to do with Kansas crime, then you’re not following the issues carefully,” Kobach said. “Absolutely affects us here in Kansas. It affects wages here in Kansas. Criminals are coming to Kansas because of the open border.” 

Democratic opponent Chris Mann, a Lawrence attorney and former police officer, said that he felt the government did not do enough to prevent illegal immigration, but the problem with crime related to illegal immigration is that undocumented people don’t feel comfortable speaking to police officers. Mann said getting immigrants to trust the justice system will reduce crime.

“They’re afraid that people like him are going to send them back if they come forward,” Mann said. “So we need to make sure that we have a statewide approach that brings these people out of the shadows, that makes them willing to participate in the criminal justice system.” 

Mann criticized Kobach’s performance as secretary of state from 2011-2019, referencing his citizenship law. The law required residents to prove their citizenship before registering to vote and prevented 35,000 eligible voters from participating in elections. 

After a five-year legal battle on the constitutionality of the law, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office had to pay $1.9 million in fees and expenses to the American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys when the law was ruled unconstitutional, with no evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud. Kobach was ordered by a federal judge to take six hours of remedial law class after the trial. 

As the top law enforcement officer in the state, the Kansas attorney general can provide legal services to state agencies and boards, issue opinions, protect consumers and defend the state in civil proceedings. 

Kobach said Mann would not be willing to defend Kansas laws, referencing Mann’s criticisms of Kobach’s proof of citizenship law and pointing to anti-abortion laws. Kobach was one of several Kansas Republicans who supported an amendment that would nullify a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision focused on a statewide right to abortion. 

“You can’t do that as attorney general,” Kobach said. “You can’t say I don’t like these pro-life laws. I don’t like this proof of citizenship law. I’m not going to defend it. When I’m attorney general, I will defend every Kansas law.” 

Mann said he would defend laws but would not attack constitutional rights. 

“I would not waste the resources of the office to attack women’s constitutional rights,” Mann said. “My opponent has specifically said that he would go on the offensive against women’s constitutional rights. You can watch the debate where he said that.” 

Mann also mentioned his endorsement by the Kansas Livestock Association, which announced its support of him ahead of Thursday’s debate. The organization, which typically endorses Republicans, endorsed Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt in 2018. 

“KLA is issue driven and supports candidates that are competent and capable of supporting the livestock industry in Kansas,” said Matt Teagarden, CEO of the Kansas Livestock Association, in a Thursday news release.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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