Minor Party melee: Kobach, legislature asked to clear air in ballot nomination tiff

Legislators and candidates alike say Kansas lawmakers are going to have to act to close a peculiar loophole in Kansas law that has allowed the “No Labels” party in the state to nominate candidates who can get a “pass” if they lose the Democrat or Republican primaries, allowing them to still move on to the general election as a minor party candidate.

And whether those moves in Kansas politics this week were political chicanery or perfectly legal savvy opportunism – those on both sides of the issue say they want an Attorney General’s opinion on its present legality.

2nd District Kansas Senator Marci Francisco

Longtime Kansas GOP political consultant Kris Van Meteren is echoing a call by Democrat State Senator Marci Francisco for an attorney general’s investigation to prove whether he had legal standing in the new party when he nominated Francisco in the District 2 Kansas Senate race – something Francisco claims she knew nothing about and has charged as election fraud. Secretary of State Scott Schwab intervened, pulling the plug on Van Meteren’s No Labels nominations – including one for his wife, Echo Van Meteren, in a separate race in Kansas Senate District 5 – claiming Kris Van Meteren had no standing to make those nominations. Officials with the national No Labels Party have said the same.

But Van Meteren says he followed the law – recovering the fumble when Kansas’ No Labels organizers failed to file the proper documents detailing party officers. Van Meteren says he became the chairman fair and square, and his nominations are legal according to Kansas law. He’s asked House Committee on Elections Chairman Pat Proctor to request Kobach render an opinion. Proctor said in a Facebook post the issue needs to be resolved in the legislature.

The blow up surrounds the peculiarities in Kansas with regard to minor but official political parties, which appears to allow a minor party like No Labels to nominate a candidate who’s already filed for a primary race under a major party’s moniker. State election law allows the minor party nominee to move through to the general election, even if that candidate is defeated in the Republican or Democrat primary.

Van Meteren says he changed his party affiliation to No Labels and took chairmanship of the organization after it gained credence in Kansas but failed to field a national presidential candidate and was basically abandoned in the Sunflower State by its Kansas organizers. At that point, Van Meteren says the Kansas chairmanship was left vacant, and he stepped in.

“I then simply followed Kansas law and completed the paperwork the petition gatherers never bothered to file,” Van Meteren said in a Facebook post. “Articles of Incorporation, registration with the IRS, etc. As the new incorporator and director of No Labels Kansas Party, Inc., I issued a call to convention, called that convention Monday morning, elected myself as Chairman, and nominated two candidates for the Kansas Senate: Marci Francisco and Echo. I was careful to document all of this and made sure I did everything in the right order.”

Echo and Kris Van Meteren

What followed is where things get politically prickly. Passing a defeated candidate on to the general election allows a number of advantages: 1) that candidate can split the vote for the winning primary office seeker, torpedoing him/her in the contest with the general election opponent 2) the second chance in the general election also allows the possibility for a second attempt at the office since Independents, Libertarians and unaffiliated voters can participate in the general.

Van Meteren has requested Schwab produce the official documents that prove someone else is the Kansas chairman of No Labels. As of the end of the week no documents had apparently been produced.

The incumbent Democrat Francisco of Lawrence faces a more liberal primary challenger in Christina Haswood for Senate District 2 in what watchers say will be a tough contest. Not-so-coincidentally, former legislator David Miller is the Republican running unopposed in that race – and is a client of Van Meteren’s. Miller said the whole think looks shaky but appears to be legal He said it obviously has to be addressed by legislators.

“As far as the No Labels party is concerned, I did not know it existed and I did not know he (Van Meteren) had any connection to it,” Miller told the Informer. “I was as surprised  as anyone when the news stories reported its filings.”

“As far as minor parties are concerned,” Miller said, “it is clear to me that the next Legislature needs to thoroughly review this situation. I believe the key issue from a public policy perspective is:  Can a person simultaneously be a member of more than one political party? And can a party nominate someone who is not a member of that party?  As a senator, I will work to correct this obvious mess.”

If Schwab’s decision is rescinded, the move allows Van Meteren’s wife Echo to pass through into the general election for Senate District 5 should she lose her primary against Republican Jeff Klemp.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office did not return an email from the Informer Friday as to whether a determination on the issue would be forthcoming.

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.