TOPEKA (AP) — A panel of top Kansas officials agreed Tuesday that the state was right to help dozens of legislative candidates adjust quickly after federal judges made last-minute, widespread changes to Kansas' political districts.
The decision came during a meeting of the State Objections Board, which hears challenges to secretary of state decisions affecting political candidates. The board it made up of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, all Republicans.
The board also refused a gay rights group's demand to remove a conservative Democratic lawmaker from the ballot, and it rejected an appeal from a Kansas House candidate who claimed he was left off the Aug. 7 primary ballot because the state lost his paperwork.
Most of Tuesday's crowded agenda was packed with cases linked to the judges' ruling earlier this month that adjusted boundaries for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts. The judges stepped in after the Legislature failed to redraw the maps to account for population shifts in the last decade.
The judges ruled only days before candidates were required to file paperwork indicating they would run for office, making the final hours before the deadline unusually hectic. Secretary of State Kris Kobach assisted more than 80 candidates who had previously filed for office by having his staff reassign candidates to new districts if the changes in boundaries affected them.
"Obviously, this entire year is unusual in terms of the election process because of the failure of the Legislature to enact new maps," Schmidt said.
Fighting between conservative and moderate Republican lawmakers prevented any redistricting maps from being approved before the Legislature adjourned earlier this year.
The most contentious challenge before the board was from Scott Hesse, a Topeka attorney and former assistant attorney general who contends that Kobach didn't have the legal authority to reassign legislative candidates to new districts after the judges reset political boundaries.
Hesse raised the issue in trying to get one of his two GOP primary opponents, Dr. Shanti Gandhi of Topeka, removed from the ballot in the 52nd Kansas House District. The same argument was used by John Alcala, a Topeka city council member running as a Democrat in the 57th District who is challenging the listing of his Republican opponent, Aimee Rosenow of Topeka on the ballot.
Gandhi and Rosenow had filed earlier this year in different districts and were drawn into their current ones.
Hesse argued that such candidates were required to withdraw their original filings and refile in the correct district. He said the secretary of state's office acted arbitrarily.
"What you are doing is picking and choosing candidates for offices," Hesse told Kobach during the board's meeting. "What you're doing has a real opportunity for abuse in the future."
Page 2 of 2 - But Schmidt and Colyer saw Kobach's handing of such cases as prudent.
"I think it's very clear right now, if we would follow a different policy, that it would certainly put the elections at risk," Colyer said. "It would potentially throw dozens of candidates off of the ballot in very short order."
Another highly contested case was filed by Tom Witt, executive director for the Kansas Equality Coalition, objecting to having Rep. Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat, listed as a candidate in the 102nd House District. She and the group have clashed over issues such as same-sex marriage and greater protections against discrimination for gays and lesbians.
Pauls represented the district for more than two decades before she was drawn out of it by the judges. So in order to stay in the district, she listed a former church that she and her husband have owned since 2003 as her new home.
Witt argued that based on local records and city ordinances, the former church can't be a legal residence, making Pauls' filing for re-election invalid.
Pauls disputed that argument. She acknowledged that she's not fully moved into the former church, but she said she has furniture and appliances in the church, is staying there overnight and is receiving mail at the address.
The case of the lost paperwork involved Larry Meeker, of Lake Quivira. He was seeking to run as a Democrat in the 17th House District in the Kansas City area. Democrats and Kobach's office agree that Meeker filled out a form at a local elections office and a Democratic staffer intended to deliver it to Kobach's office, where it had to arrive before the deadline.
Democrats contend Kobach's office lost the form after it was delivered. Kobach's staff said there's no proof his office ever received it. Kobach didn't participate in the decision, but Schmidt and Colyer backed up his office.