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Kansas Secretary Of State Says He Will Not Recuse Himself From Election Recount


In Kansas, the Republican primary for governor is still too close to call. Initial results show incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer trailing his challenger, Trump's ally Kris Kobach, by fewer than 100 votes. That means there will likely be a recount. And the twist - the person in charge of the recount is the Kansas secretary of state who just happens to be Kris Kobach.

We're joined now by someone who's taken a deep dive into Kobach's background and political career, Hunter Woodall, a reporter with The Kansas City Star. Welcome.

HUNTER WOODALL: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So let's just first start with the primary here. Kobach has already said he will not recuse himself from overseeing the recount of his own election. If he wins this recount whenever it happens, do you think the results will be perceived as legitimate?

WOODALL: I think on the Republican side, they will be. You know, Kobach - he's of course secretary of state, the state's leading election official. And he's made a big point about voter fraud that he has really been unable to prove en masse, and voter integrity is kind of his mainstay. And the Republican Party in Kansas has largely stayed behind him on that.

So you doubt that Jeff Colyer or somebody like this is going to doubt the outcome of the election, but you do have the idea that from onlookers, there might be some sour grapes on, you know, why didn't, you know, Kobach recuse himself? You know, he's defended himself, saying, well, you know, it's more on the county level. But again, he is the state's leading election official.

CHANG: Wait. His defense is the recount will take place at the county level, so his fingers won't be all over it.

WOODALL: Right. But still at the end of the day, like, you know, the results are reported to his office. His office is still involved, you know, in the whole recount process even though, you know, he won't be tallying votes, for example.

CHANG: So people outside Kansas might know of Kris Kobach's name because of his pretty prominent role on a short-lived Trump administration commission on voter fraud. He's also been a longtime advocate for limiting immigration. You guys recently did an investigation that adds another layer to all of this. Can you briefly explain what you guys found?

WOODALL: So before Kobach became the Kansas secretary of state, in around 2006, 2007, he began working with about four cities on a series of illegal immigration-geard ordinances, the idea of kind of routing that perceive problem out of these small cities. They were all under 30,000 people, all largely white. These cities spent about 9.5 million in legal costs defending these ordinances which either dealt with not knowingly renting to, you know, "illegal immigrants," quote, unquote, or knowingly hiring "illegal immigrants," quote, unquote. And none of them are being enforced right now.

Two of the legal cases decidedly failed. And it cost the cities, again, about 9.5 million to defend these ordinances. Kobach made about 665,000 the same time his political star ascended to eventually working of course with former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and then really having Donald Trump's ear on a host of issues.

CHANG: OK, so a lot of money spent by these cities. Kris Kobach was able to enrich himself. And in the end, these ordinances did not succeed in their final objective.

WOODALL: Right. It ends up being more of a, you know, for the people that wanted these ordinances, more of kind of a moral victory because Kobach defends this as saying, well, they still are a deterrent to people from doing this. But they really - I mean, if you're being objective about this, did they really get much bang for their buck?

CHANG: And how have voters in Kansas been reacting to your investigation? Do you have a sense?

WOODALL: Well, so Kris is really - I mean, he's often in court. You know, he's had a host of legal struggles. So, you know, I think folks were surprised that it dates back this far. Of course this started before he was secretary of state and actually has continued while he's been secretary of state. He's still getting paid a $10,000 retainer each year by a town in Nebraska to help out with their immigration ordinance if there is another legal challenge.

It's kind of - seems like this is what they've come to expect with Kobach. I mean, after all, this is a man who showed up at a suburban Kansas City parade with a mounted replica machine gun on the back of a truck. So I - people I think come to expect the unexpected from Kris at this point.

CHANG: Hunter Woodall is a reporter with The Kansas City Star. Thank you very much.

WOODALL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.