Topeka, Kan. – The paths of President Barack Obama and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are crossing once again.
But this time, it is not over immigration.
It is over the enduring assertion by so-called "Birthers" that Obama is not eligible to be president because they doubt he was born in Hawaii.
Kobach, who is an adviser to the Romney campaign on immigration policy, heads the all-Republican Kansas State Objections Board, which is considering removing Obama from the state's November ballot.
The issue -- which Kobach made a part of his election campaign in 2010 -- has been reignited by a claim from a Manhattan, Kan., resident that Obama is not eligible to be president because his father was from Kenya. The resident, Joe Montgomery, also questions whether Obama has a valid birth certificate.
"We have to take our responsibilities seriously," Kobach said. "Taking it seriously means that we make a decision with all of the evidence that can be obtained before we decide it."
Kobach, the architect of some of the most hard-line state-level immigration policies in the United States, including those of Arizona and Alabama, has been critical of Obama for what he says is the current administration's failure to address illegal immigration. Kobach also was the force behind a strict immigration component in the Republican party platform that was recently adopted at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain said in statement: “From enthusiastically welcoming his endorsement to letting him write the most extreme republican platform on immigration in modern history, Mitt Romney has made it clear that Kris Kobach and him are partners in extremism.”
The notion that Obama was born anywhere other than in Hawaii has long been discredited, and the White House released his long-form birth certificate last year. Hawaii officials also have repeatedly confirmed his citizenship.
The question isn’t just the obvious ‘what’s the matter with Kansas?’ but the more troubling, ‘what’s the matter with Romney and the Republican Party that they keep giving Kris Kobach an influential seat at the table’?
- Frank Sharry, executive director, America's Voice
Kobach is an ardent voter ID proponent who during his successful 2010 campaign suggested Obama should produce his long-form birth certificate to quell doubts about his status. The board's other members are Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The board, which would have the final say on the ballot absent a court challenge, plans to meet again Monday and may rule then. Time to make changes is running out, however, as ballots to overseas military personnel must be mailed before the end of September.
Romney critics assailed Kansas's move, calling it vindictive.
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, said in a statement: “The question isn’t just the obvious ‘what’s the matter with Kansas?’ but the more troubling, ‘what’s the matter with Romney and the Republican Party that they keep giving Kris Kobach an influential seat at the table’?”
"While Kobach’s role in the Romney campaign may be unofficial, his relationship with Romney and the reins of power in the Republican Party are both longstanding and influential," Sharry said. "Most notably, Kobach persuaded Romney to embrace the concept of “self-deportation” and recently made a successful push for the RNC’s 2012 platform to include a Draconian set of immigration proposals. Now, he is legitimizing the birther movement and considering the outrageous step of removing the sitting President’s name from the ballot."
Kobach said the delay shouldn't be interpreted as the board giving credence to claims that Obama isn't eligible, but as a signal it wants to build a more complete record. He noted that the board doesn't have any document certifying the authenticity of the copy of Obama's birth certificate that is available online.
Montgomery, 51, said Thursday that he has been researching issues surrounding Obama's eligibility for the past four years. The same arguments Montgomery made have circulated widely on the Internet and among so-called "birthers," who doubt Obama's citizenship.
"I'm here to uphold the rule of law, and the Constitution of the United States," Montgomery said after his objection was considered. "Somebody has to do it."
Montgomery also argued that to be eligible for president, both of Obama's parents had to be U.S. citizens when he was born, another long-circulating claim that includes citations of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, some more than a century old.
Schmidt and Kobach, a former University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, disagreed. Kobach said Montgomery was "trying to read too much in these very old decisions."
But the board said Thursday it wants certified documents from Hawaii. Kobach plans to have his staff contact officials in Arizona and Mississippi, which also have looked into such issues. Hawaii sent Arizona official verification of Obama's birth records.
In 2010, after Kobach made his comments about Obama's birth certificate in answering questions at a campaign event, an aide attempted to clarify Kobach's stance and said he didn't subscribe to "birther" theories. On Thursday, asked by reporters whether he personally doubts Obama's citizenship, Kobach said he wants to wait on making a statement until "we have the full factual record in front of us."
Kobach said it will be difficult for Montgomery to prevail, particularly because Kansas has a high legal standard for removing a candidate from the ballot.
But he said, "I don't think it's a frivolous objection."
Neither the Democratic Party nor the Obama campaign had a representative at the meeting, but Kip Wainscott, an attorney for the campaign, sent the board a letter saying Montgomery's claims were "without merit."
"These tired allegations are utterly baseless," Wainscott wrote.
Dakota Loomis, the Kansas Democratic Party's executive director, declined to criticize the board directly.
"It's just unfortunate that they have to take their time to have to deal with something like this," Loomis said.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
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