The president of the Kansas Senate left an imprint on the race for governor Wednesday by endorsing Secretary of State Kris Kobach rather than the state’s incumbent Republican governor in the primary election to decide the party’s nominee in the November general election.
Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican and leader of the state Senate, said she had differences on issues with Kobach but viewed him as the “strongest conservative” in the field ahead of the Aug. 7 primary. She said Kobach would fight the “activist” Kansas Supreme Court, oppose abortion and promote good fiscal policy.
The plea from Wagle was issued through her official email account, which could violate state law banning use of public equipment, supplies, time or funds to expressly advocate for a candidate to be nominated or elected.
“Kris Kobach has proven himself to be the strongest conservative in the Republican race for governor,” Wagle said. “We may have differences on some issues, but I believe he will bring much-needed change to Topeka.”
Wagle passed over Gov. Jeff Colyer, who responded by announcing endorsements of his candidacy from members of the Kansas State Board of Education. Wagle also passed over Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, as well as former Sen. Jim Barnett, her running mate in 2006, when Barnett was the GOP’s nominee for governor.
Selzer said he was surprised by the Senate president’s decision to embrace Kobach.
“I find it interesting that Sen. Wagle is endorsing the secretary of state after he has referred to Topeka and the Legislature as corrupt and as part of the swamp,” Selzer said.
Kobach, completing his second term as secretary of state, has denounced politicians with long careers in the Legislature and borrowed a punch line from President Donald Trump about “draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C. Kobach directly criticized Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and the longest-serving legislator in state history. Hensley has been in the Legislature since 1977, while Wagle has been a lawmaker since 1991.
In a statement, Kobach said he looked forward to working with Wagle to reform state government and praised her opposition to abortion and advocacy for fiscally responsible budgeting.
Colyer said four of 10 elected members of the state Board of Education endorsed his campaign. Previously, Colyer earned backing of the Kansas Farm Bureau, National Rifle Association and Kansans for Life.
Board members Jim Porter, of Fredonia; Jim McNiece, of Wichita; Kenneth Willard, of Hutchinson, and Deena Horst, of Salina, released a statement declaring Colyer “a true public servant and a supporter of public education.” They lauded the governor for working with the 2018 Legislature to pass a five-year, $525 million increase in state aid to K-12 schools in response to rulings by the Supreme Court.
Kendall Marr, spokesman for Colyer, said recent polling showed Kobach would lose to the Democratic Party nominee for governor in the general election but Colyer would prevail in that election by 10 percentage points.
“Gov. Colyer looks forward to working with Sen. Wagle after leading the Republican Party to victory in the general election,” Marr said.