TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A decades-old letter Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wrote denouncing apartheid in South Africa but arguing against U.S. companies pulling out has resurfaced as he runs for governor and helps lead a presidential commission on election fraud.
Questions about Kobach's past views on racial segregation in South Africa arose in 2012 when he advised then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, The Wichita Eagle reports. Recently, Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and Kobach critic, said he had heard Kobach had written a letter on the subject decades ago.
Scrutiny of Kobach has increased in recent months after President Donald Trump appointed him vice chairman of the election fraud commission and as Kobach launched a campaign for the Republican nomination for governor next year.
As Kansas' chief elections official, Kobach has successfully advocated tough voter identification laws, and critics such as Hensley contend those policies suppress turnout among minority voters. Before Kobach was elected secretary of state in 2010, he gained national attention for advocating hardline policies against illegal immigration.
Opposition researchers from the 2012 campaign accused Kobach of once justifying apartheid, and Hensley said Friday that he had heard a similar incorrect description of the 1986 letter, which was written as the U.S. considered sanctions that were eventually approved by Congress over President Ronald Reagan's veto. Kobach called the allegation that he had defended apartheid ridiculous.
The Eagle reported that it received multiple tips about a letter on apartheid and searched newspaper microfilm. It found a letter to The Topeka Capital-Journal written by Kobach and published in August 1986, when Kobach was a Harvard University student.
"We must strive to end the injustices of apartheid," Kobach wrote in the letter, but argued that pursuing divestiture "would be both ineffective and irresponsible."
He said having American companies pull out of South Africa would hurt its black citizens most and that actions by U.S. corporations were helping to "drive a sturdy nail into the coffin of apartheid."
"Disinvestment is tantamount to washing our hands of the issue and turning our backs to the chaos we cause," Kobach wrote.
Kobach told the Eagle that he became interested in South Africa because apartheid and the movement to end investments there were big issues on the Harvard campus. Apartheid ended in the early 1990s.
Kobach said he already was politically conservative and said the debate to him showed "how campus liberals often argue for policies that make them feel good superficially but actually make the problems worse."
Kobach wrote his senior thesis at Harvard about how businesses in South Africa had become extremely politicized, basing it in part on research he conducted during a 1987 visit and publishing it as a book in 1990.