Riley County Republicans Saturday hosted two of three candidates to be the party’s nominee in the race for attorney general in a town hall forum and meet and greet in the Wareham Opera House.
Former Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach and retired Asst. U.S. Attorney Tony Mattivi spoke for more than an hour in response to questions submitted by members of the audience, with moderation by Party Chair John Ball. Kansas Sen. and candidate Kellie Warren was unable to attend due to prior commitments.
KMAN has transcribed the first half of the candidates’ conversation. Full remarks can be heard here:
Mattivi: Good evening, everybody. Thank you for coming. Thank you for having us here. We appreciate you doing this event for us. This is my opportunity to introduce myself because I have never run for office before. I’ve never run for school board or dog catcher. I didn’t even run for student council when I was in school. I am running because I believe that because the Kansas Attorney General is the chief law enforcement official of the state, I believe that ought to be a law enforcement official and not a politician. I retired from the Department of Justice in November of 2020 after almost 30 years as a prosecutor; I started in the DA’s office in Topeka prosecuting speeding tickets in 1993 and worked my way up to murder cases.
I worked in the AG’s office for two years. I’m the only candidate for attorney general who’s actually worked in the AG’s office. And then for 22 years, I worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Topeka doing everything from drug trafficking cases to violent crime to organize crime to death penalty cases to national security cases – including a number of high profile national security cases right here in Kansas that you’ve probably heard him. I went to Iraq for six months and I helped the Iraqis prosecute and convict ‘Chemical Ali’ who was later executed for his part in the war crimes and atrocities for which we convicted him. And then I spent almost five years as the lead prosecutor at the military commission at Guantanamo Bay of the guy that Osama Bin Laden sent to Yemen to blow up the USS Cole in October of 2000 and kill 17 American sailors and seriously injure 36 others.
I am running for this job to give the voters a choice, this race is a very stark contrast: If you believe that it’s okay for your chief law enforcement official to be a politician, the other gentleman on this stage is very capable of filling that role as is [Warren]. But if you believe that your state’s chief law enforcement official ought to be a law enforcement professional, somebody who’s going to make decisions about the AG’s office, about law enforcement resources across our state, about civil litigation that we engage in, about protecting consumers and reimbursing crime victims and investigating all of the things that the AG’s office and the KBI investigate – if you insist that that person actually be a prosecutor, I am the only candidate in the race that fits that criteria. So in 45 days, you’ll go into the primary election and you’ll have a choice and it’s a choice between the career prosecutor or the career politician. And I hope you agree with me that our chief law enforcement official ought to be a law enforcement official.
Kobach: Good evening, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I’m gonna introduce my special assistant here, Josie, I think the youngest person in the room – she’s seven she’s keeping me in line. It’s great to be here in Manhattan. I think most of you probably know me as your former secretary of state. So you know my political background there – two terms as secretary of state, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
You might also know that President Trump tapped me to lead his commission on election fraud after I introduced into Kansas – drafted and the legislature passed – the legislation making Kansas unquestionably the most secure state in the country against election fraud with our photo ID and signature verification and a host of other things. But you may not know my legal background, so I’ll offer a few introductory notes there. I was a law professor for 15 years before I became secretary of state. I taught constitutional law, legislation and legal history and immigration at UMKC Law School. I also spent two years at the U.S. Department of Justice as counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft during that period. In addition, for the past 20 years I have had a career litigating high profile complex civil litigation – basically defending cities and states against the ACLU all over the country. I argue cases in the US Court of Appeals in the third circuit, fifth circuit, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth, and DC circuits, usually against the ACLU; sometimes against the sitting administration in Washington. But there are very few attorneys who have this kind of experience, and that’s what led me to decide to run for attorney general.
I wasn’t planning on it when we went to the polls to re-elect President Trump a little bit less than two years ago. But when Joe Biden took office, immediately on his first day, his inauguration day, he signed into effect over a dozen executive orders that were illegal, unconstitutional, or both. And as a professor of constitutional law, I was completely blown away by what he did, the boldness of it, the not even coming close to the boundaries of federal statute. And I also realized on that day that really the only official, because we did not have a majority in either house in Congress, the only official who could stop Joe Biden was a state attorney general. A member of Congress can’t do it in the minority. A governor can’t do it. There’s no one who could stop him in his tracks other than an attorney general with a determination to do it. There have been a number of lawsuits brought by state attorneys general so far, but almost all of them have been brought by Texas. Texas has brought over 20 of them. Texas is carrying the rest of the country on its shoulders; Kansas signs along, you know, signs its name under Texas, but Texas is the only state doing the work. My objective is for Kansas to stand side by side with Texas so that more lawsuits can be brought and people will see that there are two states leading the charge against the Biden administration.
What is the primary purpose of the Kansas Attorney General?
Kobach: Well, I think there are a bunch of purposes, but I think the three most important – two are ones that any attorney general can fill. And that is criminal prosecution and playing defense when people sue Kansas to try to stop our laws. So the ACLU or Planned Parenthood sues because they don’t like our laws. They lost in the legislature. They try to defeat us in court. Those are the two purposes that every attorney general plays or fulfills. But the third purpose that I will bring is in addition to playing defense against the ACLU, we will go on offense against the Biden Administration.
Whether it’s his lawlessness at the border, or his continued assault on fossil fuels; they’re already threatening at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the prairie chicken again and if they do that that will end drilling in the Western third of Kansas. They’re coming up with every mechanism they can. They continue to bring on vaccine mandates in one form or another. The Department of Agriculture just a few weeks ago announced that the school lunch program would be held hostage to force schools all across the country to have trans-friendly bathrooms. Yes. You heard me say it. They announced it at the end of the week very quietly, this is all happening. And an attorney general can sue and stop all of those things. Kansas will take on that third priority of playing offense against the Biden Administration. And that is the difference of a Kobach tenure as attorney general.
Mattivi: That’s definitely a difference between the two of us. My friend, Kris, has said many times that when he wakes up, he’s going to eat breakfast thinking about ways to sue the Biden Administration. I can guarantee you after having spent three decades as a prosecutor in this state, when I wake up as I eat my breakfast I’m going to be thinking about the ways that we are not safe and how do I address those and how do I fix those? I’m gonna be eating my breakfast, thinking about, do our sheriffs and law enforcement officers have enough resources to keep you safe in your community? Do our prosecutors have enough prosecutors and support staff and other resources to dig the criminal justice system out of the hole that we’re in because of COVID? Are we protecting crime victims? Are we protecting our elderly from the theft of their identity on the internet? Those are the things that I’m going to be worrying about when I’m the attorney general.
This administration, unfortunately, is reaching into our lives in unprecedented ways. Whether it’s mandates or lawlessness of the order or the eviction moratorium – when they do that I will respond to them as your attorney general, but I’m not going to sit in my office thinking about creative ways to Sue the federal government because there are other things that are more important to our state like keeping us safe. That’s what I’m going to be focusing on as the attorney general.
What role does the attorney general have in addressing illegal immigration in Kansas?
Mattivi: Our state needs strong borders. There are people coming across our border every day who are trying to harm us or trying to steal from us, whether it’s our intellectual property or the benefits that our government provides. We have to protect ourselves as a country from people who are doing that. We have to protect ourselves from the people who are in our communities and who are committing crimes, even though they are here illegally. That’s a premise, that’s the foundation. But at the same time, I have heard both of my opponents advocate for sending Kansas law enforcement officers to the border to protect us from illegal immigration. I challenge them to find a single law enforcement leader in Kansas, whether it’s a sheriff or a chief of police, who believes that they have so many resources available to them that they have no problem sending some of those officers to the border and that not making our community less safe. Yes, we need strong borders. Yes, we need to protect ourselves, but we need to protect ourselves here in Kansas and in our communities more than we need to protect the other states around us.
Kobach: Well, I think most of you know that much of my career has been defined by fighting illegal immigration. For those of you don’t know, I fought illegal immigration in court in a variety of cases. As I mentioned earlier, some of those cases against the ACLU were defending cities and states that were taking state and local action to stop illegal immigration. I was John Ashcroft’s chief advisor at the U.S. Department of Justice on immigration. I advised President Trump during the 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency on illegal immigration. And I’ve litigated this question many, many times, but just to correct the record I’ve never said I wanna send sheriffs or Kansas law enforcement officials to the border. I’m not sure what Tony’s thinking of.
Might have been Kellie [Warren] said that. I have said in the past that we should send the national guard to the border, but of course the attorney general doesn’t have authority over that, the governor does. But we can enforce Kansas laws against illegal immigration. That’s one thing that I’ve been advising sheriffs in Texas to do. I’m representing them right now against the Biden Administration in a lawsuit in Galveston, Texas. You can enforce state laws against identity theft to reduce illegal immigration in your state. And there are other laws as well. Human trafficking laws can be enforced against smugglers of illegal aliens. So we need to aggressively go against that because it creates a deterrent. We are a destination state, and of course every state is a border state now. I’m also going to be pushing the legislature for an E-Verify law across Kansas, requiring all businesses to adopt E-Verify.
I’m not sure what Tony’s position is, but I’m pretty sure that Kellie [Warren], the third person in the race, would not push for E-Verify. There are a lot of Republicans who unfortunately, will not take that step. They like illegal labor, and it’s a sad fact in our state. We need E-Verify, there’s more than half a dozen states that have already done it. It’s really good at protecting our labor force, our American labor force against competition from illegal labor. Once that happens, the attorney general will have a primary role in enforcing E-Verify in the state of Kansas to protect our market, our labor market against illegal labor. So I anticipate there are many things that the attorney general of Kansas can do. And of course, if Biden does get another illegal executive order, which I anticipate he will, he keeps coming up with creative ways of trying to twist our laws. I will be creative when I’m defending them. I can see when he’s breaking the law, there’s nothing creative about that, but he keeps coming up with new ways to break our laws and Kansas will sue if he does.
What is your position on voter integrity in Kansas? How would you help improve it?
Kobach: Well, as you know, I worked on this issue. The two big issues in my career have been fighting voter fraud and fighting illegal immigration. Of course, as your secretary of state I did draft the legislation that in 2011 really made Kansas number one in the country. But I also drafted a bill in 2015 which gave the attorney general and the secretary of state prosecutorial authority over election crimes. In addition to the county attorneys who already had it. And we’re the only state that has this, we have three different types of prosecutors that can go after election fraud. I prosecuted approximately I think it was 13, 12 or 13 cases while I was secretary of state. We obtained a guilty conviction in every single one of them. And I anticipate that as attorney general, I will renew prosecutions of election fraud.
Indeed, I issued a five point plan pointing out that we would go after election fraud in Kansas. I can’t say for certain that there will be continued election fraud, but I would be willing to bet just about anything I have. Because even though we have all of these laws that prevent most election crimes in Kansas, the one crime, well, there’s two crimes you can’t prevent ahead of time. One is double voting. So if you vote here in Manhattan and then you go vote in Johnson County and you vote in Missouri on the same day, we can’t stop you. We can detect it after the fact and prosecute you but we can’t stop you from doing it. The other crime is aliens voting. That’s why I passed or drafted the law that the legislature passed for proof of citizenship at the ballot box. That’s the one that the ACLU fought. They got lucky on the draw of the judges they got. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office fought that appeal in court, unfortunately lost. That would’ve stopped that crime, but now we can sometimes detect, sometimes, when an alien has voted. And when that happens, I will prosecute it as attorney general
Mattivi: Integrity of our elections is a foundation of our society. If we can’t have confidence that the folks who are in office were validly elected, then that shakes the core of our democracy to its very foundation. So voter integrity is an absolutely critical issue. I think it’s somewhat disturbing that election fraud offenses are such low level felonies because that doesn’t really translate to the damage that they do in our society; that having been said, you know, Kris is correct. We are one of the few states in the country where multiple different prosecutors have jurisdiction over those offenses. I’m not sure that I – I was going to say I’m not sure that I agree with his numbers, I disagree with his numbers. I was able to find a handful of cases that were prosecuted by the secretary of state’s office when Kris was in office. I have found a number of them that were dismissals and a number of them that were diversions. So the secretary of state’s office did not have a 100 percent success record when Kris was secretary of state. And we have the case numbers to back that up.
The bottom line is voter fraud is a serious offense. It is more serious than the way in which it is presently penalized and all prosecutors who have jurisdiction over it should treat it very seriously.
What do you see coming for families that we will need to stand strong against – not just in Kansas, but you standing strong as the Kansas Attorney General?
Mattivi: That’s a great question for whoever asked it. I haven’t mentioned anything really about my family. I’ll do that quickly. My wife, Mary, is a district court judge in Shawnee County. She was appointed to the bench about 10 years ago by Governor Brownback. Our daughter, Julia, is 25. She’s a nurse in the ICU at Overland Park Regional. Our youngest, Hope, just finished her freshman year here at K-State. We’re wondering where she’s gonna live because her house, the Chi Omega House, was destroyed last week in the storm. And our son Matthew is 22 and he enlisted in the Navy. I consider myself a husband and a father above all else. I think the most important thing that I can do for my family and your family when I’m attorney general is to keep you safe, to keep our community stable so that the parents can thrive in the business environment that a safe community presents.
And one of the most important things that’s going on in Kansas right now is Value Them Both. I believe Value Them Both is going to pass on August 2nd. And I believe that we need an attorney general who is capable of standing up at the podium in front of the Kansas Supreme Court defending Value Them Both when the for-profit abortion industry sues and that’s what’s going to happen with Value Them Both passes. So we need, I think we should look at this attorney general’s race as a job interview because the attorney general that you select when you go to the polls in August, and then again in November, is the person who will be standing at the podium in front of the Supreme Court defending Value Them Both. I think that’s an important issue for our state and for our families.
Kobach: Yeah, I just want to correct the record [on]one thing Tony said in the last question. There was one dismissal the entire time, we got the election prosecution authority at the end of 2015 and we dismissed only one. And that was because we brought charges against both the husband and the wife. They were voting in Kansas and Arkansas at the same time in the same election. And we found out that the husband was doing it for the wife as well. He was the culprit. So we dismissed the charges against the wife, but I’m not aware of any other dismissal during my tenure as secretary of state. We got guilty pleas out of every other case. If one of them involved a diversion, there would’ve been a guilty plea as well.
At any rate. The question, yeah, obviously I treasure my family. I try to bring one of my girls to every event I can. A way of maintaining some quality time while I’m on the campaign trail. And so Josie is our youngest. She’s seven. Our oldest is Lily. She’s 18. She’s going to Washburn this fall. We have five girls, so I am blessed that way. And they all know how to pull daddy’s strings and it’s fine. Protecting my girls and protecting your kids is absolutely the core of what the attorney general does. Obviously making sure that our criminal prosecution in our state is robust is an obvious way of doing that. I think there’s some other things too. One is, and I think this distinguishes me from my two opponents, I announced that if I’m attorney general concealed carry permits will be free from now on.
South Dakota’s the only state, so far, that’s made them free. I think they should be free in Kansas. My daughter, Lily’s, going to go to college – look concealed carry is the great equalizer. It absolutely is the equalizer. In a dark parking lot, if somebody’s coming up to her at night and she’s concealing on campus, she is protected in a way that her smaller stature might not otherwise allow. And so I think it’s very important for protecting our young ladies and our women of all age, that concealed carry is something that we [advocate]. So, as you know, we recently reduced it to 18, but you have to have a permit. If you’re 18, 19 or 20, you no longer have to have a permit if you’re 21 or older. So making concealed carry available to our young ladies in college is something I think will actually have very tangible security effects. And I am so thankful that my daughter is going to have that protection.
What steps can be taken to safely secure our schools, what can the AG do about it?
Kobach: I think the approach of the left that we are seeing, they’re using these recent school shootings and other mass shootings to once again lobby for the same gun control that has no direct bearing on the incidents that have recently happened. It’s all political football to them. Whereas I think many of us on the Republican side are thinking seriously about what we could do. Now look, every single one of these recent shootings the target was selected because it was a soft target. Nobody in there would be armed. That’s why they choose schools. That’s why they choose shopping malls. That’s why they choose churches, in some cases. They are looking for targets where nobody’s going to be able to shoot back.
And I think, you know, criminals of this nature are evil. Some are insane, but they’re not irrational. They are going to places where no one shoots back. And so, I think we have to think about hardening our schools first, and then secondly changing the calculation so that there will be someone, a good guy with a gun. The body counter or the number of lives lost is almost always determined by the number of minutes that elapses between when the shooting starts and when the good guy with a gun gets there. And so I think we should have schools that have one entry and that entry should be protected by a metal detector. There should be a school resource officer armed in each school. And every teacher that wants to and will take a special class should also be permitted to be armed. That will mean that there were two good guys spread throughout the school, or maybe even three. That is the bottom line. We have to make these schools armed in the sense that there is at least one and hopefully several people in the school who are willing to go and save children’s lives. If we can do that, that changes the calculation. And in the event that someone still does try to attack the school, it is far less likely they will take a significant number of innocent lives.
Mattivi: I think Kris and I are on the same page on this one. So my kids are all out of school now, the youngest one is in college. When they were in high school, if I had to go drop off their lunchbox, I couldn’t get into high school. I would go to the door, I would have to press the button. They would have to see who I was, and I would have to respond to someone behind the glass and they would have to buzz me in. And then once I got inside, usually the first person I saw was Deputy McCaffery, the school resource officer, who was an on duty sheriff’s deputy. I don’t understand why all schools aren’t like that. We protect our money right now as a society and our banks and savings and loans, we protect our money better than we protect our kids and I think we should change that.
But I will bring up two additional issues. Number one, the mental healthcare system in our country is broken. I know that in Wichita right now Comcare that does the mental health treatment in the criminal justice system usually has 450 mental health professionals working in that system. They are now down below 250. In Wichita, there’s a young man awaiting trial on a murder charge who is unquestionably mentally ill. He’s been on the list to get into Larned for 18 months. And he’s still number five on the list. The mental health system in this country is broken. I think that one of the ways that it plays out is in the mass murders that we’re seeing in schools. And we have to fix that as a society. The other thing that I think is really disturbing is we are starting to see some studies that are being published with a direct relationship between the school shooters and marijuana use. And we’re seeing that at the same time that we’re having discussions in our society about the legalization of marijuana.
It is conclusive medical evidence that increased marijuana use affects the mental health of our children. The one thing that I would think that we ought to be able to all agree on is we should not legalize a substance that causes our kids to be less stable mentally. So I do think that there’s an issue with regard to hardening our schools, getting responses there quicker, but we also have to address the mental health issue and the illegal drug issue in our country.
What can the AG do to improve school district transparency and help parents seeking answers?
Mattivi: We have open meeting and open records acts here in Kansas, that the AG’s office is charged with enforcement. That is one thing that I think the AG can do is help with keeping meetings open and records open. One of the things that has disturbed me a great deal about what has happened in the Justice Department and the way that it’s been politicized is what’s happened with regard to the pressure that’s put on parents with regard to their participation in school board meetings. Look, I have prosecuted some of the most significant domestic terrorism cases in the history of our state. I prosecuted the guys that wanted to turn Garden City into the next Oklahoma City. I know what domestic terrorists look like. They do not look like moms at school board meetings, right. And what we’re seeing from Washington is a politicization of the Justice Department when we have an attorney general who issues a memo calling moms at school board meetings domestic terrorists. We have to stay away from that. Those are not domestic terrorists. And I will do everything that I can using the podium and the pulpit of the attorney general to address that wrongheaded thinking.
Kobach: There are several things that the attorney general can do. You are absolutely right. Parents need answers and oftentimes they don’t get them. We do have Freedom of Information Act, Kansas Open Records Act (KORA), and we do have Kansas Open Meetings Act which does allow us to go to the meetings, but I would say those aren’t adequate because you still don’t know what’s being taught by the teachers. And one thing that I’ve been pushing for in other states, and I will push for in Kansas as attorney general, and the attorney general will have significant leverage in making this legislation happen, and that is a law requiring every school district to put every teacher’s class materials, a syllabus of all the materials that the students will read online.
It’s not that much work. When I was a law professor it was real easy. You just put everything, all the page numbers and every single book, you list it, you put it online. And then all of your students and their parents who are paying for that law school education in many cases, they can see what their students are being taught. That law would allow everyone to see inside the classroom and see what school books, what’s actually being taught to these kids. I will push for that law and I will help enforce that law depending on how it’s enforced. Secondly, yeah, I don’t see this happening, but you know, of course what Tony’s referring to is the Sheriff’s office I believe it was that some deputies dragged out a father who was rightly upset about what happened, due to an incident in a trans bathroom in Virginia. I don’t think any sheriff in Kansas would do that, but if any Sheriff’s office in Kansas or any police department in Kansas dragged parents out of the school board meeting, the attorney general would be speaking very loudly against that and depending on the circumstances, potentially acting against that. Hard to predict what exactly we would do, but the bottom line is that’s not gonna happen in Kansas. We would not stand for anything like that treatment of parents who were simply wanting to know what their kids are being taught and wanting to know what their kids are being exposed to. So, yes, I will be fighting for parents’ right to control the education and at least see the education that their kids are getting.