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KS GOP Rep Charged With 3 Felonies     07/15 06:45

   

   TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A freshman Kansas congressman who had listed a UPS Inc. 
postal box as his residence on a state voter registration form was charged 
Tuesday with three felonies, including illegal voting.

   The charges against GOP Rep. Steve Watkins came three weeks before the 
state's Aug. 4 primary election with fellow Republicans pushing to oust him 
from the eastern Kansas seat he barely won in 2018, even though he's largely 
toed the conservative policy line and supported President Donald Trump. GOP 
critics already had worried that the months-long investigation into whether 
Watkins violated state election laws puts the 2nd District seat in play if he 
wins the primary.

   Watkins called the charges "hyper-political" even though the district 
attorney who filed them also is a Republican. The congressman said during a 
televised debate Tuesday evening that he hadn't seen the charges but has done 
nothing wrong.

   "I'll get my name exonerated," he said during his closing statement.

   The charges were filed in state district court in Shawnee County, which 
includes Watkins' hometown, the state capital of Topeka. District Attorney Mike 
Kagay announced them less than half an hour before the three GOP candidates' 
only scheduled debate began on three stations.

   The UPS postal box was listed as Watkins' residential address for voter 
registration purposes when he cast a mail-in ballot for a local city council 
and school board election in November 2019. He later changed his residential 
listing.

   The most serious criminal charge accuses Watkins of voting in the 2019 local 
city and school board election without being qualified. A first-time offender 
who's convicted could face a year in prison, though the more typical sentence 
would be two years' probation.

   Kagay also charged Watkins with voting illegally in advance and interfering 
with law enforcement by providing false information. Both felonies could bring 
up to seven months in prison, though a year's probation is the presumed 
sentence.

   Watkins also was charged with failing to notify the state Division of 
Vehicles of a change of address, a misdemeanor.

   Kagay's announcement did not provide details about the alleged crimes, and 
the district attorney said in an email that he could not discuss them "until 
they are presented in open court." A hearing in the case was set for Dec. 3 --- 
a month after the November general election.

   Watkins faces State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Dennis Taylor, a Topeka 
attorney, businessman and former top administrator at several state agencies. 
LaTurner said the charges make the primary contest a two-person race between 
him and Taylor.

   "We need to put our best foot forward," LaTurner said during his opening 
debate statement. "Clearly, our current congressman, with three felony charges 
and a misdemeanor charge, is not the person to do that."

   Some Republicans had lingering misgivings about Watkins even before 
questions about his voter registrations. He is a former Army officer and 
military contractor who lived most of his adult life outside Kansas and hadn't 
voted in its state or federal races until running for Congress.

   Watkins won the November 2018 general election by less than a percentage 
point in a GOP-leaning district that Trump carried by a wide margin in 2016.

   The presumed Democratic nominee this year is Topeka Mayor Michelle De La 
Isla. The national Democratic Party has said it sees "an opportunity" to pick 
up the seat.

   "If you want to be trusted to write our laws, you should at least follow 
them," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement.

   Watkins filed a state voter registration form in late August 2019 listing a 
postal box at a UPS store in southwest Topeka as his residential address. The 
postal box still was listed as his residential address when he cast a mailed-in 
ballot that included a Topeka City Council race in November.

   The congressman and his staff have said he inadvertently listed his mailing 
address instead of his residential address by mistake.

   Watkins filed a new form in December listing an address at an apartment 
complex about 2 miles north of the UPS store as his residence, but it was the 
address for the complex's office. That address was not in the same City Council 
district as the UPS store but in a district with no council race last year.

   In January, Watkins filed another form listing another address for an 
apartment in the same complex as his residence.

   The Shawnee County sheriff's department began investigating Watkins' voter 
registrations in December. In late May, Kagay said in an email that his office 
had reviewed the investigation and "requested follow up be conducted on a 
specific issue," without being more specific.

 
 
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