This photo provided by the Kobach for Governor campaign shows part of a flyer mailed out by the American Civil Liberties Union comparing the civil rights records of Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, the leading Republican candidates for Kansas governor. The ACLU is defending the flyer calling it voter education. (J.R. Claeys/Kobach for Governor via AP)

ACLU attack on Kobach roils Kansas GOP governor primary

July 18, 2018 - 6:31 pm

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union has taken the unusual step of plunging into a nasty Republican primary for Kansas governor with an explosive flyer attacking conservative Kris Kobach, but his main rival in the race doesn't want the support of the group either.

The ACLU has sparred repeatedly with Kobach in court over the Kansas secretary of state's efforts to limit voting rights and immigration. Now, the civil liberties group's nemesis is mounting a serious threat from the right to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer in a crowded Republican primary on Aug. 7. Both men are trying to burnish their conservative bona fides.

Kobach calls the ACLU a "liberal organization" and says as governor he would be the group's "worst nightmare."

"In my entire life, I've never heard of the ACLU advocating on behalf of a Republican, but Jeff Colyer is their man," Kobach said.

On one side of the ACLUE flyer, the only text reads "Kris Kobach wants to be governor of Kansas but has violated our civil liberties. Kris Kobach has consistently wasted taxpayer dollars on litigation over his efforts to restrict voting rights."

The other side features a smiling color photo of Colyer and a dour black-and-white Kobach photo. It outlines their positions on education spending, government transparency and LGBT rights.

The flyer has prompted accusations of political machinations like in 2012, when Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill backed ads praising the Republican she considered the weakest in the GOP primary, then beat him in November.

Colyer's campaign spokesman, Kendall Marr, said in an email that this sounds "like a dirty trick to help Kris Kobach and ensure the Democrats and the ACLU have an easy opponent like Kris Kobach to defeat in the general election."

Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, denied that the group was opposing Kobach or endorsing Colyer. He said the group's mission is to raise civil liberties issues in the race and educate voters about the candidates' positions on those issues.

"In the 2018 election, some of Kansans' most deeply shared values are at stake," Kubic said. "As a result, we are engaging Kansans across the political spectrum to ensure that all of the candidates are on notice and know that voters will not ignore a history of civil liberties abuses."

The ACLU declined to say how many flyers were mailed out and where in the state they were targeted.

But Patrick Miller, assistant political science professor at the University of Kansas, said he was surprised by the ACLU's intervention in the race.

"Republicans do not like the ACLU very much at all. In fact they tend to perceive it quite negatively. They perceive it as a liberal organization that stands against conservative values," Miller said.

The ACLU has won multiple lawsuits in state and federal court over Kobach. A federal judge last month struck down as unconstitutional a state law he championed that had required documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. Kobach was twice found in contempt of court during the case.

Kobach told the crowd at his fundraiser Tuesday that if elected he would issue an executive order soon after taking office requiring the confirmation of the legal immigration status for all state officials, new employees and contractors in Kansas.