Harrisburg Republicans meet with Kansas’s Kobach to talk election, immigration policy

By: - April 7, 2021 4:01 pm

Attorney Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, endorsed a Senate bill that restores firearm rights to people who have felony convictions expunged and eliminates certain five- or 10-year bans on possession by felons. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Pennsylvania Republican legislators met with a controversial, Trump-aligned former Kansas elected official on Tuesday night to discuss model legislation on election policy, among other topics.

The session, organized by arch-conservative Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, included former Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an unspecified number of GOP lawmakers, as well as the state House GOP’s top election official. 

Metcalfe, who confirmed the details, told the Capital-Star that he believes Kobach, “has a lot of expertise to add,” to lawmakers’ efforts to draft new voting and immigration laws in the commonwealth. 

Kobach was Kansas’s chief elections officer from 2011 until 2019. During that time, he built a national profile for claiming without evidence that undocumented immigrants were registering to vote and casting illegal ballots.

Using the statewide office as a bully pulpit, he convinced Republican lawmakers to pass a strict voter ID law in 2013 that required voters to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

Forced to defend his claims and the policy in court, Kobach lost, was found in contempt of court, and ordered to take remedial legal courses. 

Kobach also chaired former President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission from May 2017 until Trump suddenly disbanded it nine months later without uncovering any evidence of fraud.

House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, attended the meeting, but said he “wasn’t really paying attention.”

“I joked around with my colleagues,” Grove said of his time at the meeting.

Another attendee, Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Dauphin, told the Capital-Star that Kobach was pitching model legislation. Lewis expected colleagues to introduce the proposals, including bills on “COVID-19 freedom” in the near future.

“Members are free to introduce bills,” Grove said of any future potential legislation. “I got tons of election bills sitting in my committee.”

The House State Government Committee handles all legislation related to voting, elections, and redistricting, among other topics. 

Grove has been holding a run of more than a dozen hearings on Pennsylvania’s election law, in response to the 2020 election.

Without apologies, Pa. Republicans forge ahead with election hearings spree

The hearings have featured local Pennsylvania election officials as well as advocates and experts from across the country explaining everything from voting machines to voter ID laws.

Metcalfe also chaired the committee from 2011 until 2018, gaining notoriety for using the perch to push hardline immigration policy while blocking redistricting reform. He also hosted a white nationalist at a 2015 hearing on a proposal to make English the official language of the commonwealth.

State Rep. Margo Davidson, of Delaware County, the ranking Democrat on the State Government  Committee, told the Capital-Star the private meeting with Kobach was “appalling and grotesque.” 

She added that House Republicans bringing in the well known anti-immigration advocate showed a desire to nationalize the politics around state election law.

“If anyone should know, this guy Kobach should know there is no credible election fraud on a wide scale basis,” Davidson added.

This isn’t Kobach’s first foray into implementing policy in Pennsylvania.

Kobach was a little known law professor until he joined former Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta’s efforts to adopt a series of municipal anti-immigrant policies in the coal country city, according to the Kansas City Star and ProPublica.

Those laws were challenged and defeated in court, and cost Hazleton $1.3 million in legal fees.

Barletta would go on to serve in Congress for four terms, and is now looking at a 2022 run for governor.

Kobach would go on to help Arizona craft its controversial “show me your papers” state immigration law, which advocates argued would invite racial profiling by local police.

He then ran and won Kansas statewide office in 2010, before failing in a 2018 gubernatorial bid despite the Sunflower State’s Republican lean.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.