Last week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach renewed his attack on Sunflower Community Action, and called into question the hiring process for Affordable Care Act outreach workers. Kobach’s most recent comments come on the heels of an announcement that he will create a two-tiered voting system for the state of Kansas – and bar 17,500 Kansas residents from voting in state and local elections. His accusation, and the context, reveals much about Kobach and the Kansas he imagines.
On Friday, Kobach accused Veronica Miranda of using “thug tactics” to intimidate a public official, and suggested she should not be trusted to assist Kansas residents in enrolling for medical care. He is referring to to a peaceful protest at his home this past summer, where demonstrators left shoes on Kobach’s doorstep to represent the fathers torn from their families by draconian immigration policies.
On Father’s Day this year, demonstrators gathered at his home and called attention to his role in today’s record-setting deportations (1100 per day). In response, Kobach invoked the second amendment and suggested he would have shot the protestors had he been home. Though he later claimed that’s not what he meant, some didn’t get the memo, and a Fox news host called on readers to “lock and load” in response to the protest.
Kobach retreated from the public eye for a short while following his outburst. He has recently emerged, though not to apologize for his comments, much less acknowledge the broader institutional violence he is responsible for. He helped craft some the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the country – Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56. He inserted the “self-deportation,” or attrition through enforcement approach into the Republican Party platform before the 2012 elections.
In light of the Affordable Care Act going into effect, Kobach is using Sunflower Community Action and Miranda to express his displeasure over uninsured Kansans potentially having access to medical care.
Despite generally being vocal with his opinions, Kobach – like the Kansas legislature – has remained silent on the question of expanding Medicaid. Kansas has one of the country’s most restrictive Medicaid programs, and did not approve an expansion. As a result, 78,000 Kansans will fall into a Medicaid coverage gap. In Kansas, those affected will largely be working poor adults: “That means a family of four in Kansas with an annual household income between $7,536 and $31,809 will receive no help to purchase health insurance.”
Who are these working poor Kansans without insurance? A 2012 report finds that 2/3 of Kansans without coverage are white, but that Kansans who are African American, multiracial or Hispanic are more likely to be uninsured than their white neighbors. Hispanic Kansans are particularly hard-hit: they are two and a half times more likely to be uninsured than white, non-Hispanic Kansans (28.4 percent compared with 11.0 percent).
In a similar vein, Kobach’s most recent plan to suppress the vote by requiring additional proof of citizenship explicitly targets naturalized citizens, thereby creating additional barriers to vote for Hispanic, Latino, and Asian American citizens in particular. Such a plan dovetails with his other voter disenfranchisement efforts, such as voter purges and voter ID requirements.
In these instances, we can point to more explicit and sinister motivations: in 2007, while chair of the Kansas Republican Party, Kobach wrote an email boasting about unconstitutional efforts to prevent citizens from voting:
“To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years!”
Rather than prevent (the specter of) voter fraud, which Kobach claims is his motivation for these tactics, he is explicitly blocking specific groups of people from voting – groups he suspects will vote for Democrats.
Instead of safeguarding the right to vote, Kobach has continuously leveraged his position to prevent immigrant and other communities of color in Kansas from participating in political life and accessing basic services. In a state that is significantly less diverse than the US average, Kobach pursues policies that further marginalize immigrants and people of color. His occasional slips and outbursts are consistent with his broader platform of institutionalized discrimination, and reveal a vision for Kansas that includes only the white and well-off.