In a stunning letter to Kansas editors on Sept. 24, Jim
Concannon, a professor of law and former Dean of the
Washburn University School of Law, has denounced Kansas
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and questioned his fitness for
Concannon is one of Kansas’ preeminent attorneys, a law
professor at Washburn for more than 40 years, and Dean of
the school from 1988 to 2001. He is now the Robert J. Dole
Distinguished Professor at the law school. His long career as
a renowned professor, celebrated legal scholar and judicial
authority has precluded public comment on the fitness of other
Here is the text of Concannon’s letter:
“To the Editor:
“The Kansas Supreme Court in the case of Taylor v. Kobach
applied elementary and uniformly recognized principles of
statutory interpretation when it decided that Chad Taylor’s
request to withdraw as a candidate for the United States Senate
complied fully with the applicable Kansas statute. The court’s
unanimous determination that Secretary of State Kobach violated
“a clearly defined duty imposed by the law” when he refused
to remove Mr. Taylor’s name from the ballot was grounded in
law, not politics.
“As a law professor for 42 years, I have taught those same
elementary principles of statutory interpretation in many classes
at Washburn Law School, including the course on Legislation.
Mr. Kobach, as a former law professor himself, could not have
been ignorant of those principles of interpretation. Instead, he
chose to ignore his clearly defined legal duty and to apply an
unsupportable interpretation of Kansas law which had the effect
of benefitting his personal political agenda and the Senate candidate
of his political party on whose reelection honorary committee
“I had the privilege to know personally Mr. Kobach’s four
Republican predecessors as Secretary of State, Elwill Shanahan,
Jack Brier, Bill Graves, and Ron Thornburgh. I was campaign
manager for one of them. Each of them was a person of integrity
who understood that the office of Secretary of State was
unique and imposed an obligation on them to be worthy of the
public’s trust in administering our election laws impartially. I do
not speak for any of them. But I know that none of them ever
would have considered violating a clearly defined legal duty in
order to advance a personal political agenda or the candidacy of
a member of the Secretary’s political party.
“As administrator of our election laws, the Secretary of State
must be held to a higher standard of integrity than other elected
officials. Mr. Kobach’s decision to ignore his statutorily defined
legal duty calls into question his fitness to hold any public office
and, without question, the office of Secretary of State.
– James M. Concannon”
Not only is Concannon one of the state’s most respected attorneys,
the Concannon name resonates with longtime Kansans
familiar with the state’s political history. (We note the late Don
Concannon, a longtime Hugoton attorney and southwest Kansas
stalwart who was state GOP chairman from 1968-70, a candidate
for governor in 1974 losing the GOP nomination to Senate
President Robert Bennett by only 300 votes, and twice state
chairman, in 1976 and 1980, for Ronald Reagan’s presidential
In 2012, Jim Concannon was selected for a rare honor in the
profession, the Kansas Supreme Court’s Justice Award, its highest,
recognizing his long work to advance the cause of justice.
In that mission, attorneys rarely – if ever – dress down fellow
professionals in public. Jim Concannon’s letter, then, is a stark
warning that government is headed for the kind of trouble that
worries even the most decorated problem-solvers.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach built his climb into
public office on a fraud, the specious claim that Kansas elections
were turning counterfeit. He must be elected to save
us from disaster, he said; without his vigilance aliens (from
Mexico, we were told to believe) would swarm into the state
like ants, pack the polls and sabotage our elections.
Before he rode into Kansas, Kobach had spent his time in
Arizona beating the desert sage to roust “illegals,” hone his
pitch on voter fraud and sharpen his quill for writing Jim Crow
back into that state’s voting laws.
Next, Alabama and Kansas. Alabama, where Bull Connor and
George Wallace remain states’ rights icons, was an easy sell.
But Kansas, less receptive to snake oil, took some convincing.
Kobach bleated and whined, insisted and persisted: the unwanteds
were flocking over the prairie like locusts; our voting
booths were swarming with imposters and tricksters.
Just how these pretenders had thrown elections – and for
whom – was never explained. It didn’t matter. People voted the
lie. Kobach was elected to protect us from something – what,
exactly, we’ve never quite known.
The important thing to Kobach was that he have a high office,
one that braced his power, that gave him control.
It is one thing for an editorial writer to pronounce Kobach
a Kansas embarrassment and a menace. But it is quite another
when one of the state’s premier law professors, a nationally recognized
leader in the profession, suggests that he be removed
Kobach may be corrupt but he is no weakling. He has
legions of allies, and friends in high places. Let’s hope they
don’t include many voters.
are a bad idea
This election cycle, like many others, brings up the occasional
belch about term limits for legislators. Such spasms of
righteousness usually come from one of two sources:
– One who is not familiar with the workings of a legislature,
– A candidate who is familiar with the process, but chooses to
prey on the ignorance of disgruntled voters. The base cry in this
case is not to throw the bums out, but to limit their terms.
Term limits sound like a grand idea. Putting a sunset to legislators’
service prevents them from getting too comfortable in
office, too familiar with the trappings of influence. A limit on
terms sets an end to legislators’ time away from the home folks.
Limits prevent legislators from building too much power, from
getting too cozy with lobbyists, bureaucrats, cabinet officials
and other brokers at the Capitol.
A limit on terms is also a limit on experience. It chokes a
legislator’s ability, capacity, capability. Term limits put the legislator
at a disadvantage in the process – unless similar limits
are applied to other players in the power struggle to make or
We have long noted that at Topeka, the Capitol may be the
public’s building but it is the lobbyists’ home. This applies to
Washington as well. Legislators are merely visitors; some stay
longer than others but with rare exception their longevity in
office is no match for the veteran committee staff, agency directors,
department heads, senior lobbyists and members of the
press. Such veterans have been at the Capitol for decades; many
are valued for their experience, skill, institutional memory.
Their influence is well-established.
For many of these non-elected experts, power goes beyond
expertise. The opinion of a senior committee staffer, a longtime
budget analyst or seasoned lobbyist can have far more sway
than the musings of a second-term House member who has just
discovered the second-floor rest room.
Put another way: Throttle the citizenry by limiting the terms
of elected officials, and power goes to the others, the people
who were there when the elected arrived, and who will be there
long after they’re gone.
Smarter legislators come from smarter voters. And the product,
smarter laws, is far more likely with an educated electorate
than a limited one.
– JOHN MARSHALL
In a stunning letter to Kansas editors on Sept. 24, Jim