Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), best known for his national work on immigration issues, has drawn his first opponent in what could shape up to be a competitive 2014 race for reelection.
Democrat Randy Rolston, a businessman from Lenexa, officially declared his candidacy Monday, weeks after he poured $200,000 of his own money into a campaign account. Rolston plans to make Kobach's push for voter identification and new voting registration laws, along with Kobach's national work on immigration issues, the centerpieces of his campaign. Rolston's effort starts as Kobach has renewed his push to have Kansas adopt new immigration laws that are similar to ones he authored for Arizona and Alabama.
"He is more committed to his own personal business and agenda," Rolston told The Huffington Post. "Immigration has nothing to do with the secretary of state's office."
Rolston's argument is similar to one made by Kansas Democrats since Kobach took office in 2011, claiming that Kobach is ignoring his state duties to pursue his work with the Immigration Law Reform Institute. Kobach's immigration work has included calling for self-deportation and working with lawmakers in Arizona and Alabama to draft those states' laws, which include giving law enforcement the ability to ask for immigration paperwork from those suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Parts of the Arizona law were struck down by the Supreme Court last year.
Kobach has said that he works on immigration issues in his spare time. He did not return a request for comment.
"He's not doing his job here," Rolston said.
Rolston also said he wanted to work to change the Kansas requirements that those registering to vote must provide proof of citizenship, along with voter identification on Election Day. Both initiatives were championed by Kobach.
Rolston also said he would pursue efforts to allow 16- and 17-year-olds in the state to pre-register to vote when they receive their driver's licenses.
Rolston is also playing up his Kansas farming roots. On his website, he writes, "I’m weary of Ivy League outsiders controlling Kansas politics for their own personal reward." Kobach, who has degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale Law School, graduated from Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kan., where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2003.
Rolston is not the only potential Kobach opponent. House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, former state Rep. Ann Mah of Topeka and former state Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita have also been mentioned as potential contenders for the position. Davis' name was mentioned in a recent statewide phone poll in connection with the race. Schodorf had served as a Republican and became a Democrat last month, hours after leaving office. Schodorf, who was a leading moderate Republican, lost her Senate seat in a 2012 GOP primary to a conservative.
Schodorf, who now runs a moderate political blog, told HuffPost that she has been talking to Democratic leaders about the race, but said that it is still "early." Calling Kobach "very vulnerable," Schodorf laid out what she sees as a path to victory.
"Democrats have to be strong," she said. "They have a good chance to take Kris Kobach out. They have to be united and work with the moderate Republicans and independents."
Davis did not return a request for comment.
Mah, who led the Democratic legislative charge against Kobach for the last two years, told HuffPost that she would not enter the race but planned to assist Rolston. She said that he has the ability to raise the $1 million needed.
"I've got the goods on the guy," Mah said of Kobach, who she opposed in her capacity as the top Democrat on the House Elections Committee.
With lawmakers scheduled Tuesday to take up the consideration of a bill Kobach is pushing that would allow him to prosecute voter fraud, Mah noted that the timing is right for a Democratic challenger.